On hot days with clear blue skies in the middle of summer, most of us are aware that we have to stay out of the sun and take precautions. Often there will a UV rating – the estimate of the harmful UV rays getting through - peaking at 11 or over. Many of us choose to stay off the beach and in the shade during the middle of the day ('frying' on a towel at midday is fortunately a thing of the distant past).
More high UV days are coming
If you live in Brisbane, these extreme UV ratings occur on around 100 days a year; for Sydney it’s close to 50 days, and Melbourne around 30 days, according to ARPANSA*. That number is also growing as the planet warms.The Cancer Council advises that any UV reading over 3 requires protection from 9am to 4pm, with particular care needed for the young.
Contrast this with northern hemisphere countries like the UK, where the UV index rarely gets above 3 on cloudy, rainy days, and tops out at a rating of 8-9 for the couple of weeks of summer. No wonder when British backpackers arrive here, they get a nasty, and potentially dangerous welcome from the southern sun.
Aren’t we repairing the ozone layer?
As most Aussies know, we suffer from a particular noticeable depletion in the ozone layer that allows the UV rays through. Back in the 70s it was discovered that chlorofluorocarbons – CFC’s – used in fridges and aerosols were leading to a hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic. The 1987 Montreal Protocol was agreed to by all nations to phase out the use of CFC’s, and initial scientific reports suggested that the ozone layer was indeed starting to repair.
The most recent report suggests that the rate of repair in the southern ozone layer may not be as positive as first predicted. Other potentially harmful chemicals that are being used, as well as other impacts of global warming, mean unfortunately that the problem is very much here to stay for our and our children’s lifetimes.
80% of UV rays penetrate through clouds
We are writing this post on a cloudy, showery September day across the Australian eastern seaboard. The kind of days when "accidental sun burn" can occur. That's because up to 80% of harmful UV rays can penetrate through clouds, according to the USDA. It explains why in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, the UV Index is already hitting 8, 7, and 6 respectively. Any UV reading over 3 requires protection from 9am in the morning to 4pm in the afternoon, adults and children alike.
Check the UV Forecast and Stay Sun Smart
The best way to check is to use the SunSmart app, developed by Cancer Council Victoria, which you can download for free, or go to our Sun Safety page, where you can get a forecast specifically for your location with the widget. For NZ, you can download the UVNZ app here.
* The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency is the body that monitors and identifies solar radiation and nuclear radiation risks to the population of Australia.
Check out our sunscreen recommendations here
Worried about Vitamin D intake - our review here
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Our blog articles are based on our own experience and research. For expert advice, please contact a medical professional.