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We’re still a sunburnt country

New Cancer Council research released today shows that Aussies are forgetting to slip on a shirt to protect themselves from the sun and that an alarming number of adults are getting sunburnt on summer weekends.  

The latest Cancer Council National Sun Protection Survey shows that overall the proportion of adults slipping on clothing to protect themselves from the sun has decreased from 19 percent to 17 percent in the last three years.  

Meanwhile the proportion of adults who get sunburnt on the weekend hasn’t improved and now sits at 17 percent, equivalent to more than 2.7 million adults.

In light of the findings Cancer Council Australia and the Australasian College of Dermatologists are joining together this National Skin Cancer Action Week (19 – 25 November) to remind Australians how to best protect their skin.

Professor Sanchia Aranda, CEO, Cancer Council Australia said that it was a concern that sun protection behaviours among adults had recently deteriorated, and that it reinforced the need for Governments to continue to invest in skin cancer campaigns to ensure adults remain vigilant about reducing their UV exposure.

“Australia hasn’t had federal funding for a skin cancer prevention campaign since 2007 – this latest data suggests adults are becoming complacent about UV and demonstrates the urgent need for a refreshed national campaign.”

Professor Aranda also welcomed some of the positive news in the research.

“The good news is that sunscreen use has increased since the first survey. This is excellent news, but there is still a lot of work to do.

“We suspect Aussies are slopping on sunscreen while at the same time reducing their use of covering clothing and expecting to be protected all day long. Sunscreen is a great tool to help protect your skin, but it isn’t a suit of armour. The motto remains the same - slip, slop, slap, seek shade and slide on sunglasses. Wearing covering clothing is one of the simplest and effective ways to protect your skin.”

Dr Andrew Miller, President, Australasian College of Dermatologists said that thanks to previous public health campaigns Australians were well educated about the risks of skin cancer, but some parents seemed to be more focused on protecting their kids’ skin than using sun protection themselves.

“The theme for this year’s National Skin Cancer Action Week is ‘Join the SunSmart Generation’. We often see Australian parents protecting their children with rashies, hats, sunscreen and shade – while not protecting themselves well.”

Dr Miller also said that it was important for parents to remember that their own sun protection was also vital.  

“Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime and it’s never too late to protect their skin from further damage. We want to see more adults setting a good example and joining their children in being SunSmart.

“Melanoma rates in Australians aged 40 and under are dropping and the children of today are our most SunSmart generation ever. However, it’s a real concern that sun protection behaviours overall don’t seem to be improving and that over 2.7 million Australians are putting themselves at risk of skin cancer by getting sunburnt on summer weekends.” 


About the National Sun Protection Survey

The National Sun Protection Survey was conducted via phone over the summer of 2016-17. Over 3,600 Australian adults were interviewed. Conducted every three to four years by Cancer Council, the survey provides a perspective on changing trends in Australians’ sun protection behaviours and rates of sunburn over the past decade.

Table 1. Weekend adult sunburn

† Unadjusted prevalence among adults overall

Weekend adult sunburn






Sunburnt 18% 14% 13% 15% 17%

Table 2. Weekend adult sun protection behaviour by survey year 

This column summarises the results of statistical analyses that assess the significance of the change in prevalence of adults use of each sun protection behaviour on summer weekends adjusting for the variability in weekend weather in different survey weeks and years.

During respondent’s main activity outdoors in peak UVR hours on the weekend.

Weekend adult sun protection behaviour by survey year 





Headwear (hat, cap and visor) 48% 44% 49% No improvement in hat use over time and no significant change since the last survey 
Sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher)  33% 37% 42% Sunscreen use has increased over time
¾ length or long-sleeved top 18% 19% 17% Use of protecting tops has decreased since the last survey and since 2003-04
¾ length or long leg cover 46% 39% 36% Use of protective pants has decreased since the last survey and since 2003-04
Sunglasses 55% 61% 61% Sunglasses use has also been steady.

Mostly in the shade during activity

27% 28% 26% No improvement in use of shade 

Table 3. Weekend adult sunburn by state/territory in 2016-17– unadjusted prevalence among adults 

Estimated number of people sunburnt based on ABS population figures (from 2016) and proportion of adults (aged 18-69 years) who were sunburnt on the weekend

Weekend adult sunburn by state/territory in 2016-17– unadjusted prevalence among adults 









Sunburnt 17% 16% 16% 17%   15%  21%  25%  19%
Estimated number of people sunburnt 881K 671K 518K 194K  261K  71K  43K  53

For interviews, local spokespeople or more information c

Hollie Jenkins
Cancer Council Australia
0400 762 010 or

This page was last updated on: Thursday, November 16, 2017

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