Annah Herbert, Jennie Chung and Verena Crock . . . just chilling out
Annah Herbert, Jennie Chung and Verena Crock . . . just chilling out

Flirting with skin cancer

Byron Shire beach goers are still hellbent on flirting with skin cancer despite knowing the dangers of the sun.

New research showing half of all Australians still believe a tan is healthy has added to cancer experts' fears of a prolonged national skin cancer epidemic.

Holidaying in Byron Bay from Sydney, Sophie Nazarenko, 13, and Charlotte Berlyn, 14, said they were aware the sun was dangerous, "but we want a tan - it's more attractive".

Despite warnings from their parents the girls did not cover-up or use sunscreen regularly nor did their friends.

There was no warning or message that the girls could think of that would deter them from exposing themselves to the sun.

Overseas vistors to Byron Bay, Annah Herbert from England, Jennie Chung from the USA and Verena Crock from Germany were "just chilling out in the sun" and would stay until it became too hot.

But the gentle breeze blowing masked the bite in the sun's rays resulting in the girls exposing themselves longer than was safe.

"Yes I have been warned that my fresh English skin can become haggard from exposure to the sun," Annah admitted.

USA visitor Jennie Crock said the only thing that deterred her from over exposure to the sun back home was the $5 charge to get onto the beach.

The three visitors did use a 30 plus sunblock and claimed to not spend hours in the sun.

The National Sun Survey, to be released in full in November, is the first nationwide study of Australians' Knowledge, attitudes and behaviour related to sun protection.

The Cancer Council's Chief Executive officer, Professor Alan Coates, described the finding as "disturbing" and said that while sun protection programs had made an impact, there was still a widespread lack of understanding about the dangers of sun exposure.

"Back in the 1980s we would have expected a much higher response to the question of a tan being healthy and while research demonstrates we have made progress, clearly we have a long way to go," Professor Coates said.

Chair of The Cancer Council Australia's Skin Cancer Committee, Craig Sinclair, said the problem was more pronounced with young males aged 18-24, of whom 56 per cent thought a suntanned person looked healthier, compared with 43 per cent of females in the same age group.

"These results are alarming," Mr Sinclair said.

"There are many influences on the population's perceptions of a tan being healthy.

"The most disturbing is the solarium industry continually trying to convince us to 'aspire' to have a perfectly tanned body. What the solarium advertising fails to show is the effect of tanning, which is premature ageing of the skin and the possible occurrence of skin cancer."

Mr Sinclair said the sun protection message was starting to resonate with younger females, but we were a long way short of where we should be and clearly we needed a national education campaign targetting young people, he said.

Meanwhile young teenagers like Sophie and Charlotte say "tanning is still important."

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