There's Now A "Sunbathing Calculator" Online. But Is It Safe?
It's just -- no, don't sunbathe, okay?
Here at ten daily we are all about giving you information to make your own choices -- after all, who are we to tell you what to do, right? But when a story popped into our inboxes this week about a sunbathing calculator we had a minor conniption.
The story, on a US teen website, praised the Omni Sunbathing calculator, saying that using it, "you could theoretically know exactly how long you can spend in the sun before getting burnt, without your companion having to remind you that you're "getting a little red."
Um, haven't we as Australians all grown up hearing that sunbathing is, like, bad, and that sunburn and tanning is, well, "skin cells in trauma"?
Well, yes. It's not all it seems. While it's kind of being embraced by some as a tool for working out a sunbathing equation for some good ol' tanning action, the calculator is actually a tool -- created by Dr. Małgorzata Koperska -- that works to assess how long you can safely stay outside in different UV conditions. You input a few details -- the intensity of the sunlight (low to extreme, based on this sunburn map and the World Health Organization Global Solar UV Index, the altitude where you are, your skin tone (based on the Fitzpatrick Skin Type scale), the SPF of the sunscreen you're using, and whether or not you'll be on water or snow -- and the tool will tell you the maximum number of hours (or minutes) that you can safely spend outside before you burn.
Our heads hurt already.
What's problematic is the way that people are using it AND how the makers of the tool are selling it as a "sunbathing calculator" in the first place.
And Heather Walker, chair of the National Skin Cancer Committee, agrees.
"Look, you shouldn't be sunbathing at all, and this calculator kind of encourages you to do so," she told ten daily. "It's really not something you should be doing at all, especially in Australia where our UV levels are so high.
I think the UV calculator sounds good in theory -- but you can't see or feel UV so you're relying on guesswork if it changes over time, which it does."
"The page also talks about sunburn and avoiding it -- and obviously sunburn is severe skin damage but that isn't the only sign your skin is damaged -- even having a tan is a sign of skin cells that have been damaged. What happens when you develop skin cancer is UV radiation from the sun has damaged the DNA in your skin cells and that damage can happen regardless of whether you've been sunburnt or not. It's not the best measure to just go, 'Oh well I didn't get sunburnt so that's okay'. UV damage adds up over time as well."
And there's more. "The other issue is that it relies on perfect sunscreen application and there's no such thing really," said Heather. "Proper application means seven teaspoons for a full body - that's one per limb, one for face, neck and ears, one for the front of your torso and one for the back of your torso, and we'd also say you should be wearing protective clothing, hats and sunglasses -- we'd never recommend lying out in the sun or sunbathing."
It's not all bad. Here in Australia, the sun safety message is getting through thanks to the Cancer Council's campaigns. And they have their own "calculator" of sorts to help protect us even more.
"We have a free app -- the Sunsmart app -- that tells you the times of day you need to use sun protection, and that varies across Australia depending on how close you are to the equator," Heather tells. "It's really useful to check based on your location -- remember that whenever you're outside and the UV index is three or above your skin can get damaged."
"We do want people to get outside and exercise and enjoy the Aussie lifestyle, but just do it safely using sun-protection measures."
Amen to that.