Primary prevention of skin cancer: a review of sun protection in Australia and internationally

Health Promot Int. 2004 Sep;19(3):369-78. doi: 10.1093/heapro/dah310.


The incidence of skin cancer is increasing worldwide. Protecting the skin from the sun by wearing protective clothing, using a sunscreen with appropriate sun protection factor, wearing a hat, and avoiding the sun are recommended as primary preventive activities by cancer agencies. In this paper the recent data relating to skin cancer primary preventive behaviour in Australia and other countries is reviewed. Comparison of the studies in a table format summarizing the methods, objectives, participants, findings and implications may be obtained from the corresponding author. The sun protection knowledge, attitudes and behaviour patterns observed in Australia are similar in other countries, although Australian studies generally report higher knowledge levels about skin cancer and higher levels of sun protection. The findings suggest that sunscreen is the most frequent method of sun protection used across all age groups, despite recommendations that it should be an adjunct to other forms of protection. While young children's sun protective behaviour is largely influenced by their parents' behaviours, they are still under protected, and sun protective measures such as seeking shade, avoiding the sun and protective clothing need to be emphasized. Adolescents have the lowest skin protection rates of all age groups. Within the adult age range, women and people with sensitive skin were most likely to be using skin protection. However, women were also more likely than men to sunbath deliberately and to use sun-tanning booths. The relationship between skin protection knowledge and attitudes, attitudes towards tanning and skin protection behaviour needs further investigation. Further studies need to include detailed assessments of sunscreen use and application patterns, and future health promotion activities need to focus on sun protection by wearing clothing and seeking shade to avoid increases in the sunburn rates observed to date.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Australia
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Primary Prevention / methods*
  • Protective Clothing
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Sunscreening Agents / administration & dosage*


  • Sunscreening Agents