What is ultraviolet radiation?

What is UV radiation?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is generated from the sun and enters our atmosphere. There are three types of UV radiation from the sun; UVA, UVB and UVC radiation.

The earth’s ozone layer reflects UVC radiation and stops it from getting to earth’s surface. Some UVB radiation and almost all UVA radiation still reaches us and can be harmful to our skin.

Overexposure to UV can cause damage to skin cells and lead to skin cancer.

How the sun affects our skin depends on the type of UV radiation and the amount we are exposed to. It also depends on our sun protection behaviours and personal skin traits.


Watch our video about UV radiation and how it damages our skin

Why is sun exposure a problem in Australia?

Because Australia is relatively close to the equator, we receive higher overall levels of UV radiation than countries such as Canada, Germany or the United Kingdom.

The amount of UV radiation our skin receives is also influenced by the sun's position in the sky. The higher the sun, the higher the levels of UV radiation.

It is important to remember that UV cannot be seen or felt and cloud cover will not necessarily reduce UV radiation. In fact, the reflection of UV from clouds means that UV levels may sometimes be higher on a cloudy day. So always be prepared with sun protection even on cool and cloudy days.

More information

When the UV index is 3 and above, sun protection is always needed

Find out more about the UV index and when you should slip, slop, slap, seek and slide.

How can we avoid UV overexposure?

While we cannot control the type of UV radiation that reaches the earth's surface, we can control the amount our skin receives. 

Many Australians do the most damage to their skin during childhood to young adulthood. Children who have had multiple sunburns are much more at risk of developing skin cancer later in life.1 It is important to protect your skin throughout your life but particularly during these early life stages.

Know the 5 simple ways to protect your skin from the sun.



Kennedy C, Bajdik CD, Willemze R, De Gruijl FR, Bouwes Bavinck JN; Leiden Skin Cancer Study. The influence of painful sunburns and lifetime sun exposure on the risk of actinic keratoses, seborrheic warts, melanocytic nevi, atypical nevi, and skin cancer. J Invest Dermatol. 2003 Jun;120(6):1087–to93. doi: 10.1046/j.1523–to1747.2003.12246.x. PMID: 12787139.