With over 25,000 kilometers of pristine coastline and a wealth of world-renown flora and fauna at the doorstep of most capital cities, Australia is truly the lucky country.
Yet a new study from Monash University has shed light on one area where Australians come up short against the rest of the world: our skin.
New research from the Monash dermatology unit has discovered there are 3 factors that ensure Australians are aging up to 20 years faster than their European and North American counterparts.
Australia’s proximity to the equator, high sun elevation and clear skies under the hole in the ozone layer mean that the average Australian is exposed to higher levels of UV radiation compared with the rest of the world.
We all recognise the importance of wearing sunscreen. But even with all the good slip, slop and slap habits we’ve adopted since childhood, it’s not enough to protect our skin from higher risk of premature ageing.
According to Monash, "These high UV levels put Australians at particular risk of photoageing, especially when combined with Australians' traditionally outdoor, sun-seeking lifestyle and a predominantly fair-skinned population.”
The study involved asking 1472 women from Australia, the UK, US and Canada to compare parts of their faces (looking at wrinkling, pigment and sagging across the forehead, nose, cheeks and mouth) to images showing varying degrees of ageing.
It is worth noting the participants in the trial did not have Botox, fillers, laser or plastic surgery. They also did not experience facial burns or trauma. The sample group were aged between 18 and 75 of either Caucasian or Asian background. They were also asked questions about their height, weight, skin characteristics, sun exposure history and use of alcohol and tobacco. Neither alcohol nor BMI was found to be a factor in premature ageing. Smoking was a different story, as is to be expected.
The research findings relating to UV exposure are worrying indeed. Australian women reported "significantly more severe signs of ageing at younger ages and a greater degree of change with age for most features than women from the other countries".
According to Monash University Associate Professor Greg Goodman, "The most significant part of this study for me was that, compared to the US, we seem to be losing weight in our face volume and face – which is a surrogate for ageing … much quicker than they are.”
"It was scary that the average Australian was at least 10 years and, in some cases, 20 years worse off volumetrically."
Why the huge difference? Goodman believes as a primarily coastal population, we live the majority of our lives outdoors and can stay outside during our winter (unlike many other countries). The result of this is that the cumulative exposure of Australian people to the sun is much greater.
"The amount of sunshine we have when we're young is a major part of this study," he said. "By the time you're 25 years old, you've already had a fair bit of your long-term sun exposure. It sets you up for ageing much quicker than people in other countries."
Ouch. Who knew there was a downside to all the fabulous weather we experience?
The good news is there are few handy tips you can do on a regular basis to ensure protection of the skin you’re in AND live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Tip # 1 – Stay Out of the Sun.
This is common sense, really, in addition to daily sunscreen application. If you simply must be out in the elements – i.e. a sporting event or day at the beach - invest in a brimmed hat, tent and even bring a parasol along.
Tip # 2 – Cover up the side of your body exposed to sun when driving.
When UVA rays come through the glass of your car, it can cause volume, fat and collagen loss. Have a pair of driving gloves handy in your car – they are practical to avoid uneccesary sun damage, as well as looking chic.
Tip # 3 – Use Zinc as Sunblock.
Get that image of Shane Warne right out of your head. Zinc is more effective at blocking the whole spectrum of damaging UV rays, from UVA to UVB. There are heavy duty zinc-based sunscreens for both face and body readily available from most chemists around Oz.