A recent Cancer Council Victoria survey found an alarmingly high number of adults – one in three – don’t understand how to assess the risk of sunburn on a given day.

Twenty-two per cent of people surveyed between the ages of 18 and 39 say they use temperature to determine that day’s sunburn risk. Eight per cent named cloud cover, wind conditions or humidity as sunburn indicators, and nine per cent couldn’t identify any barometer at all. Only 61 per cent correctly identified UV level as the best way to calculate sunburn risk.

UV – or ultraviolet – rays or radiation are a part of sunlight (or some artificial light sources, such as those in a solarium) that causes sunburn, premature ageing and eye damage. It’s also the leading cause of skin cancer, which is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country. UV radiation hits extreme levels in summer, but temperature is not an accurate gauge of its measure on a given day.

“UV radiation is the major cause of skin cancer, but the problem is none of our senses can actually detect it,” SunSmart manager Heather Walker said in a statement. (SunSmart is the skin cancer control program of Cancer Council Victoria.) “It’s not like sunlight that we can see, or the sun’s heat, which we can feel. As a result, we usually don’t realise how strong the rays are until the damage has already been done.”

To help us better determine invisible UV risk, SunSmart has developed an app with Deakin University’s Software and Technology Innovation Laboratory. Called seeUV, the app uses augmented reality and real-time data from The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and the Bureau of Meteorology to give users a visual expression of sunburn risk and hidden UV rays in your environment. It also alerts users when the UV rating is at dangerous levels.

Using your phone’s camera, seeUV applies a filter to what you’re seeing on your screen – sun beams become more intense the higher the level of UV, and change colour if the level is low.

In selfie mode, seeUV shows users the long-term impact of UV radiation (essentially applying an aging filter to your image) on a person’s skin, including wrinkling and sunspots.

“While a sunburn or tan fades, UV damage remains,” Walker said. “With the seeUV app, we’re asking users to think about how that damage might present in five, 10 or 20 years down the track. Unfortunately, the more UV damage you have, the greater your risk of skin cancer.”

To protect your skin from UV damage, wear sun protection SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen; wear a wide-brimmed hat; wear sunglasses; cover up with clothing; and seek out shady spaces.

seeUV is free from the App Store and Google Play.