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Sun screen vending machines installed at local beaches

In a city with a rate of melanoma higher than the national average, a new sun smart tactic is being trialled which will see machines that dispense sunscreen installed at local beaches and parks.

By Melissa Martin and Claudia Jambor

Key points:

  • The rate of melanoma in Coffs Harbour is higher than the national average
  • The local council is the first in Australia to install vending machines dispensing sunscreen in a 12-month trial
  • The Cancer Council says only 40 per cent of Australians wear sunscreen

Coffs Harbour City Council is the first local government authority in Australia to install the machines as part of a one-year trial.

“We’re aware that Australia in general has the highest incidence rate in the world of melanoma,” director of sustainable infrastructure with the council, Mick Raby, said.

“It’s the third most prevalent cancer and the cure for it is really simple: keep yourself protected from the sun.

“Given Coffs Harbour’s weather and the amount of sunshine we get each year, we thought it was a pretty good idea to stick our toe in the water and run a 12-month trial.”

The trial will monitor the number of times sunscreen is dispensed from the stations, which will be stationed at two beaches, a children’s playground and sport stadium.

Photo: Sunscreen machines dispense 10ml to 50ml after payment by card. (ABC Coffs Coast: Claudia Jambor )

Local resident Trisha Barry said her family first saw the sunscreen stations while at the beach on holiday in the USA.

They have been trying them after doing parkrun and nippers on Saturday morning and Ms Barry said having the nation’s first sunscreen station in Coffs Harbour was a coup for the city.

“I think it’s a great idea because you don’t always remember the sunscreen when you come to the beach,” she said.

“When we saw this in America we thought, “Why doesn’t everyone have this?”

Simple idea, high-tech execution

According to the Cancer Council, only 40 per cent of Australians wear sunscreen, a statistic founder and general manager of Sunscreen Stations Australia, Ed Joris, hopes his machines will address.

“In a perfect world, everyone would remember to take sunscreen to the beach and to apply it before they go,” he said.

“So what we’re trying to come up with is a solution that will provide people with access to convenient, reliable sunscreen they can continue to reapply.”

Photo: Sunscreen machines dispense 10ml to 50ml after payment by card. (ABC Coffs Coast: Claudia Jambor )

The stations operate on a ‘pay as you go system’, dispensing 10ml to 50ml amounts via a touchscreen, with payment made via debit or credit card.

While the idea is simple, Mr Joris said the technology behind the stations was anything but, with a number of technical issues arising during the four-year development process.

“One of those things is the storage of the sunscreen,” he said.

“When sunscreen is exposed to high temperatures or direct sunlight the chemicals separate and the sunscreen loses its effectiveness.

“So, what we’ve got inside our stations is a combination of active and passive technology that can cool the sunscreen.”

Sunscreen ‘last line of defence’

While sunscreen use is one of the pillars of skin cancer prevention, skin cancer prevention manager at Cancer Council NSW, Liz King, warns it should be part of a combined effort.

“I think the important thing to remember is that sunscreen should be the last line of defence after clothing, hat, shade, and sunglasses,” she said.

“Some people can get a sense of thinking once they have their sunscreen on they’re covered.

“A key statistic that we know [is that] about 85 per cent of people don’t apply correctly, meaning they don’t apply enough, and they don’t apply it regularly.”

Photo: Sunscreen is just one line of defence and should be combined with sun protective clothing too. (ABC Coffs Coast: Claudia Jambor)

Ms King said even for those who had applied sunscreen, the stations could act like triggers reminding people to reapply their sunscreen.

She said it was also perfect for the 60 per cent of people who are still not wearing sunscreen, despite an almost 40-year promotion campaign.

“Sometimes you can be caught out if you didn’t plan to be outside, or you’re staying out long than you thought,” she said.

“Having sunscreen as accessible as possible is great, but it’s in that context of ensuring you’re using other methods as well, and not just relying on sunscreen alone.”

First published at The ABC Coffs Coast, Sunday 1 December 2019. See; https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-30/sunscreen-station-in-use-1/11753402

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