There are several factors at play. We put forward some thoughts as to why this is the case.
Skin cancer awareness is still low on a global basis.
In Australia, skin cancer and melanoma is much more front of mind than it is in many parts of the world. We are largely a community of European ancestry living in the Asia Pacific, and our predominantly Anglo-Saxon skin type is ill-suited to our surroundings.
Given the prevalence of skin cancer in Australia, where over 2,000 people a year die from the condition, many of us have been confronted with the reality of skin cancer and melanoma, whether it be through the experience of friends, family members, or personally.
Travelling through France and Switzerland this summer, it was astonishing to see how many people sunbathe for hours at a time, exposing their skin to ultraviolet radiation without apparent concern for their health. Perversely, those same people would likely believe that they are gaining health benefits from sun exposure.
What might seem strange to Australians is that a large proportion of Europeans would not even be aware that skin cancer exists, or that it poses a real threat to health. Anecdotally we hear European relatives refer to loved ones who have died of a 'cancer which had spread to many organs, which started as innocuous spot on the skin'.
Skin cancer rates may be materially under-reported due to the advanced nature of many cancers that are only detected when tumours have spread to other vital organs. Despite this, reported skin cancer rates are on the rise globally and in Europe and North America in particular. For example, according to Cancer Research UK, skin cancer rates have increased in the UK by 45% in the last 10 years.
Popular culture promotes the “healthy tan” look
Having tanned skin has been in vogue since Coco Chanel returned to Paris from the South of France with a suntan in the 1920s. Fast forward to today, and Hollywood movies and online social media platforms like Instagram continue to promote the tanned look. Worryingly, many teenagers are keen to 'get the look' of the bikini or sun shorts model they’ve seen on Instagram, which is fuelling a resurgence in sunbathing. As long as key influencers associated health and wellbeing have a suntan, so will the public at large.
We are all travelling more and living longer
Global travel and tourism is an unstoppable force, and we are travelling more and more. We are living much longer, we have higher disposable income and increasingly, we value experiences over material things. All of these factors are contributing to a surge in global tourism. As a consequence, we are spending more time outdoors exploring. However, a number of us are clocking up considerably more sun exposure hours along the way.
The perception that Vitamin D is more important than the risk of skin cancer
What many people do not realise is that 10 minutes a day of UV exposure is enough to maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D. If you have a concern that you may be Vitamin D deficient, it is possible to take supplements until you are back to what is considered normal levels again.
Solbari promotes skin health and is the leading sun protection brand in Australia based in Melbourne. Solbari offers a range of skin health products including UPF 50+ sun protective clothing, broad brim sun hats and UV arm sleeves.