Why Do Aussies Get More Sunburnt?

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If you’ve ever been super paranoid about getting sunburn every time you step outside in summer, then you’re probably familiar with UV index.

It’s that number that pops up on daily weather forecasts and when you scroll down on your phone’s weather app.

It’s also the number that indicates when people should really slip, slop and slap – particularly for those of us under Australia’s scorching heat.

What The UV Index Means For Sunburn Levels

UV is Ultraviolet radiation, and it’s a type of energy produced by the sun, that can harm your skin.

The UV index tracks how much ultraviolet radiation is present on ground level every single day, measuring on a scale from 0 – being low – to 11+ being extreme.

Sun protection is usually recommended when UV levels hit 3 or higher.

If you get caught without protection on a moderate to high UV day, short-term consequences are sunburn or even a tan.

But long-term UV exposure can lead to skin damage, ageing, and skin cancer.

In fact, the sun’s UV is the main cause of skin cancer.

What can be super confusing about UV radiation is that you can’t actually feel or see it while you’re being exposed to it, which is why even on cloudy or rainy days people can still get badly sunburnt.

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency are the team behind measuring Australia’s UV.

Thanks to a bunch of sensors located around the country measuring sunlight at different wavelengths, the network can report our UV index online in real time.

The number you see is normally the daily maximum – which is the highest the UV will be all day.

According to Principal Researcher Sarah Loughran, that maximum can be influenced by lots of things like location, time of the year, amount of cloud clover, the ozone layer, and pollution in the atmosphere.

Why Is It Way Higher In Australia?

Australia has some of the highest levels of UV radiation in the world.

During a British summer, the UV Index is usually between 6 and 8. In Australia, it’s more like 10 to 14, and according to Loughran, that’s because of a few things.

Australian cities are closer to the equator than European cities. The Earth is also slightly closer to the sun in the southern hemisphere’s summer than the northern summer.

But one big reason behind higher UV recordings is the hole in the ozone layer.

The ozone layer covers the entire planet and absorbs harmful UV radiation from the sun, and the ozone layer in the mid-latitude – which is over Australia – is actually thinned, which means that more UV radiation shines through.

And that means we are more likely to get burnt.

Thankfully scientists discovered the thinning of the ozone layer was linked to harmful chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons or CFCS.

And since they were internationally banned in 1987, experts believe the ozone layer has been slowly recovering.

While experts know UV levels have increased over recent decades, they say it’s harder to predict just how much climate change will indirectly increase levels.

What we do know for sure, though, is how important sunscreen, a cute bucket hat, and some shades can be during this hot summer.