When out in the sun, you are exposed to ultraviolet radiation (UVR), which can burn and damage the skin. UVR is made up of a combination of UVA and UVB rays. Only broad-spectrum sunscreens filter out 96.7% of UVR and protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreens work by either absorbing UVR (chemical filters) or reflecting UVR (physical blockers).
The 'sun protection factor' (SPF) measures the protection provided by sunscreens. The higher the SPF, the better the protection from UVR. The maximum SPF of sunscreens sold in Australia is SPF 30+. No sunscreen offers complete protection from UVR.
Different types of sunscreen include:
- cream (thicker and usually more expensive than lotions)
- milky lotions (usually contain moisturisers)
- clear lotions and gels (usually alcohol based, less sticky and more drying)
- sprays (thin coverage, but can be useful for reaching difficult areas)
- zinc (reflects UVR, but can leave a residue on the skin)
- toddler (suitable for sensitive skin and usually fragrance free).
Sunscreen should be used in combination with other forms of sun protection practices, such as staying out of the sun, seeking shade when outdoors, wearing sun safe clothing, and wearing hats and sunglasses.
- Use a SPF30+, broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen that is labelled 'AUST L' or 'AS/NZS 2604:1998'. This means the sunscreen meets the Australian Standard.
- Apply sunscreen liberally and evenly to all exposed skin areas. Allow sunscreen to be slowly absorbed into the skin, rather than rubbing it in completely.
- Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outside. Put it on whenever you are outside or travelling in the car, rather than just when going swimming. You should even use sunscreen in the winter months and on cloudy days.
- If using a new sunscreen for the first time, test it first on a small area of skin before applying.
- Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours when outdoors, and more frequently if you are sweating, swimming or towelling off.
- Use lip balms containing sunscreen.
- Protect babies and young children by keeping them out of the sun and by dressing them in hats and protective clothing.
- Store sunscreen in a cool dry place, as it deteriorates if exposed to heat or air for long periods of time.
- Don't increase the amount of time you spend in the sun because you are wearing sunscreen.
- Don't rely on sunscreen alone as your only protection from UVR.
- Don't allow yourself or children to get burnt because your sunscreen has worn off - remember to reapply.
- Don't use old sunscreen. Sunscreen has a use by date with an average shelf life of two to three years.
- Don't leave sunscreen in hot places such as cars, as excessive heat can reduce its effectiveness. Sunscreens can become ineffective if exposed to temperatures over 30degrees.
How should sunscreens be applied?
- Use a SPF30+, broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen.
- Follow the directions, check the expiry date and shake the bottle before using.
- Adults should apply approximately one teaspoon of sunscreen per limb to clean dry skin.
When applying sunscreen to children, use a quantity proportionate to the size of the child.
Use sunscreen sparingly on babies.
- Ensure all exposed skin is liberally covered with sunscreen. This includes the neck, ears, lips and scalp (if hair is thin).
Allergic reaction to sunscreen
- People who have had skin reactions to sunscreen should try a different brand. Look for products that are labelled as suitable for sensitive skin and fragrance free eg. toddler sunscreen. Sunscreens containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide may be most suitable for sensitive skins.