On the move against skin cancer

Shocked ... Carrie Bickmore holding her UV screen image.
Shocked ... Carrie Bickmore holding her UV screen image.

Today marks the launch of the Sunsense UV Photo Bus in Sydney.

Offering free skin screenings across Australia, the bus will be touring the country, visiting 21 central city locations until December 5.

It is hoped that the skin analyses, which pinpoint UV damage, will boost awareness of the 10,000-plus melanoma cases in Australia each year. Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70.

When Sunsense ambassador and TV presenter Carrie Bickmore had her face screened she was horrified by the results.

"Before you get it done, you think it will be fine," she says.

"The average [UV rating] is 60 or 66 [100 being best and 0 being worst]. I was 42 ... which means I have a lot of sun damage and haven't looked after my skin."

The image showed dark patches of UV damage under her eyes and on her chin. "It was horrible, but also a great wake-up call," she says.

Bickmore, who grew up in Perth, says that like most Australians she spent plenty of time as a kid mucking around in the sun.

"Mum always made me put sunscreen on, but I wasn't vigilant about reapplying every couple of hours."

She also attributes the damage to incidental sun, not protecting her skin in the cooler months and the typical teenage-girl desire for a tan. "As a teen, it's more about getting brown than thinking about skin cancer."

While most teens might not be thinking about skin cancer, melanoma is the most prevalent cancer in young Australians aged 15 to 29.

"Every eight hours someone dies of skin cancer in Australia," says Bickmore, who lost her husband, Greg Lange, to brain cancer in 2010 after a 10-year battle with the disease.

"So many people lose their lives to cancers that aren't preventable. Skin cancer is preventable though."

Bickmore says that despite the shock of seeing her UV scan, she is glad she did it. "I can start to reverse the damage [even though] I can't undo it all."

She has started wearing sunscreen every day and has also changed her approach to protecting her five-year-old son Ollie's skin.

"I think he's annoyed with me, but now every day we have to put sunscreen on ... summer, spring, autumn or winter. I try to make it fun and draw letters on and then rub it in."

For herself, she uses an anti-ageing tinted suncream under her make-up.

"Sunscreen used to be oily and disgusting, but it's not any more so it's been quite an easy transition," she says.

As for achieving a sun-kissed glow, Bickmore is all for faking it instead of baking it. "A bronzer is all you need."

Screenings by the bus will be available today until 5pm at Wynyard Park. For other locations and dates around Australia, go to the website.

This story On the move against skin cancer first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.