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Trends in sun protection behaviours

Skin Cancer Statistics and Issues Prevention Policy

The findings from five national surveys during summers between 2003-04 and 2016-17 show that sun protection compliance while outdoors on the weekend during peak UV radiation hours was relatively low in most cases (Tables 1 & 2). Australian adolescents were less compliant than adults.

In 2016/17, only 10% of adolescents wore a ¾ or long sleeved top, 38% applied SPF 30 or higher sunscreen and/or wore a hat, 23% sought shade and 21% wore sunglasses. However, in 2016/17 teenagers were more likely to use three or more forms of sun protection compared to 2013/14.[1]

Table 1 Trends in adolescents’ weekend sun protection behaviours and sunburn[2]

Adolescents (12 – 17), n= 4,6732003-042006-072010-112013-142016-17Significant changes in 2016-17 %
Respondents outdoors > 15 minutes80%82%77%78%77%No change
Time spent outdoors (minutes)110111112112102↓since 2003-4 & 2013-17
Hat used38%29%23%2738↑ since 2003-04 & 2013-17
Sunscreen used (at least SPF15+)37%37%37%4140no change
¾ or long sleeved top worn11%9%11%8%10%no change
¾ or long leg cover worn37%30%28%25%21%↓ since 2003-04
Sunglasses23%24%24%25%21%↓since 2003-04 & 2013-17
Stayed mostly in the shade19%20%21%22%23%↑ since 2003-04
Two or more sun protective behaviours29%22%24%28%33%↑ since 2013-14
Weekend sunburn25%24%21%23%26%No change

Table 2 Trends in adults’ weekend sun protection behaviours and sunburn[2]

Adults (18 – 69), n= 24,4722003-042006-072010-112013-142016-17Significant changes in 2016-17 %
Respondents outdoors > 15 minutes73%67%66%70%67%↓ since 2003-04
Time spent outdoors (minutes)118116111116108↓ since 2003-04
Hat used48%50%45%44%49%no change
Sunscreen used (at least SPF15+)33%37%36%37%42%↑ since 2003-04 and 2013-14
¾ or long sleeved top worn18%19%19%19%17%↓since 2003-04 and 2013-14
¾ or long leg cover worn46%44%44%39%36%↓since 2003-04 and 2013-14
Sunglasses55%58%57%61%61%no change
Stayed mostly in the shade27%27%28%28%26%no change
Two or more sun protective behaviours32%32%44%43%47%↑ since 2003-04
Weekend sunburn18%14%13%15%17%↓ since 2003-04*

* Model includes respondents indoors and outdoors and adjusts for UV

A nationally representative survey of Australian adults’ sun protection in January 2019 found the following behaviours among those outdoors on the previous summer weekend:

Table 3 Adults’ weekend sun protection behaviours and sunburn in 2019[3]

Adults, n= 1531Wide-brimmed hatAny other hat or capSunglassesSunscreen (SPF30)¾ or long-sleeved top¾ or long leg coverNo sun protection usedWeekend sunburn


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Last modified: 12 August 2022


  1.  Cancer Council Australia. Half a million Australian teenagers sunburnt on summer weekends. Media release. Sydney, Australia; 2019 Nov 17 Available from:
  2. Tabbakh T, Dobbinson S. 2016-17 National Sun Protection Survey: Report 2 Sun protective behaviours and sunburn incidence on weekends among Australians in summer 2016-17. Melbourne, Australia: Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Cancer Council of Victoria; 2018.
  3. Social Research Centre. Summer Sun Protection Survey 2019 Topline Report. Melbourne, Australia: Social Research Centre, Prepared for Cancer Council Victoria and Cancer Council New South Wales; 2019 (unpublished).; 2019 [cited 2022 Aug 12].