Sunscreen: Your questions answered
Cancer Council spokesperson Terry Slevin offers some practical and sensible advice for choosing sunscreen.
What does SPF mean?
“Products in Australia aren’t allowed to make a claim for protection above 50+ and it’s likely that any product claiming this is not approved by the [Australian Government] Therapeutic Goods Act,” says Slevin.
Make sure to check that your sunscreen is broad-spectrum, which means it filters both UVA and UVB radiation (as both types of UV rays can cause sun cancer), and is within its use-by date. Also store your sunscreen under 30 degrees C or it may lose its effectiveness.
How often should I apply sunscreen?
How much sunscreen should I apply?
“The biggest mistake people make is not using enough sunscreen,” says Slevin. “Research suggests people usually apply too little sunscreen to achieve the sun protection claimed on the bottle.”
Should I slop, spray or roll?
“A spray can be good but if you miss bits and don’t spread it with your hand it won’t give adequate protection,” says Slevin.
What if I have sensitive skin?
If you get a bad reaction from your sunscreen, it may be caused by perfumes and/or additives in your product and not the ingredients that protect against UV radiation. Whatever the reason, keep the label so you can try another product with different ingredients such as an infant sunscreen or one for sensitive skin. Also keep an eye out for fragrance-free products. If all else fails, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
How safe are sunscreens?
- Physical blockers, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are natural minerals that deflect or block the sun’s rays from the skin’s surface.
- Chemical blockers absorb or filter UV radiation.
While these formulations are effective if used properly, some people question the safety of sunscreens with chemical blockers and the nanoparticles (tiny invisible particles of metal oxides) in physical blockers.
“While extensive testing of sunscreen has revealed no evidence of harm, it’s sensible to keep undertaking research into possible harmful effects,” says Slevin. “It’s also important to remember that the protective benefits of sunscreen against basal cell carcinomas and melanomas have been clearly demonstrated.”