How to stay alive this summer (and all the other summers)

summer There's no getting away from it that the sun in Australia is mighty powerful, and mighty dangerous. For Australians, the sun is like some kind of god from ancient times: equally worshipped and feared (and equally benevolent and destructive).

Have you seen the new TV ad by the Cancer Council of Victoria? The whole message is that it's not just those marathon sun-baking sessions or the unexpected "first of the season" sunburn that can cause skin-cancer; even little moments in the sun - walking the dog, rushing out to buy milk, cooking the BBQ - can add up. And your skin, the ad tells us, forgets nothing.

This is no toothless scare campaign. Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world, and two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. It's frightening!

My father-in-law died from melanoma. I didn't know him then, but I'm told it wasn't pretty, and the suffering was immense. Mr B and his mother and siblings lost their husband and father much too soon. Both of my parents regularly have skin-checks, and small cancers (thankfully benign) removed, and I know my own skin-future is probably not great. Throughout my childhood and teen years, I would spend all day every day outside without any kind of sun protection. "I don't burn, I tan," I'd tell people. Oh boy.

So anyway enough of the miserable stuff. The whole point of this blog post was to introduce you to a fantastic, FREE app I recently discovered: the Cancer Council of Victoria's SunSmart app. I use it every single day!

You tell the app where you are (in Australia) and it gives you advice on UV levels, in real time. The idea is that you know when to wear sunscreen, protective clothing and a hat, and to stay in the shade; and when you can be free to play in the sun and soak up some of that vital Vitamin D.

You can also create a "skin profile" (I created one for my children) by answering a couple of questions, that will tell you how much and how often to apply sunscreen. If you think you'll be out of doors quite a bit, you can turn on regular reminders to reapply sunscreen.

I use this app every day to watch the UV index rates, sending my children outside in the morning and late afternoon to get some healthy rays when I know it's safe, but bringing them in or covering them up when the UV index climbs. One thing that has been interesting for me to learn is that UV doesn't seem to necessarily correlate with clear skies, OR heat. There have been times during drizzling rain when the UV index was "extreme," and the other day it was 39 degrees but the UV was only "moderate," compared with an "extreme" rating earlier in the day when it wasn't quite so hot.

That's been an education for me and now I rely on my little app all the time. If you're concerned about sun safety this summer, I highly recommend it. For me, I feel a whole lot of peace of mind that my family can now enjoy the sun in a safety that is educated, rather than based on guesswork and estimations.

Photo credit: Cole Patrick, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons