We all know the saying ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ – now it’s easy to slip on a shirt and slap on a hat but when it comes to slopping on sunscreen it isn’t that simple. Creams, sprays, lotions and gels, SPF15+, SPF30+, broad spectrum - the sunscreen aisle of your local pharmacy offers an abundance of choices but may seem confusing. Which sunscreen will give you the best protection from the harsh Australian sun and keep your skin safe this Summer?
What are Sunscreens?
Sunscreens are products combining several ingredients that help prevent the sun's ultraviolet radiation from reaching the skin. Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect against UVA and UVB. Sunscreens labelled ‘broad spectrum’ refer sunscreens that protect from the full range of UV rays that reach the skin.
What are UV Rays?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a type of energy produced by the sun and is the main cause of skin cancer. UV damage also causes sunburn, tanning, premature ageing and eye damage. We cannot see or feel UV radiation, so unfortunately we won’t notice any damage until it has been done. There are 3 types of UV rays. UVA rays penetrate most deeply into the skin and are associated with wrinkling, leathering, sagging, and other light-induced effects of ageing. They also exacerbate the carcinogenic effects of UVB rays, and increasingly are being seen as a cause of skin cancer on their own. These rays are present at consistent levels throughout the day and also have the ability to penetrate glass and clouds. UVB rays are the chief culprit of our skin burning, reddening and skin cancers. These rays are most commonly present during the hours of 10am and 2pm during the summer months. UVC rays do not yet reach the surface of the skin so they do not cause us any damage.
What is SPF?
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a measure of a sunscreen's ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. In simple terms, if it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer, about five hours. Most sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher do an excellent job of protecting against UVB. You can also look at SPF in terms of percentages. SPF15 filters out approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays. SPF30 keeps out 97 percent and SPF50 keeps out 98 percent. You can see from this that there’s no sunscreen can block all UV rays entirely.
What Type of Sunscreen Should I Use?
That depends on how much sun exposure you're anticipating. In all cases a broad spectrum sunscreen offering protection against both UVA and UVB rays is recommended.
Many aftershave lotions and moisturizers have a sunscreen already built in, and this should be sufficient for everyday activities with a few minutes of sun exposure. If you work outdoors, play outdoor sports or generally spend a lot of time outside, you will need a stronger, ideally water-resistant sunscreen that holds together on your skin. Water resistant types are also good for hot days or while playing sports, because they're less likely to drip into your eyes when you sweat.
How Much and How Often Should I Apply Sunscreen?
To ensure that you get the full SPF of a sunscreen, use a generous amount. The average adult needs a teaspoon of sunscreen for their head and neck, each limb and for the front and the back of the body. Sunscreens should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow the ingredients to fully settle into the skin. Reapplication of sunscreen is just as important as putting it on in the first place, so reapply the same amount every two hours, whether or not the label tells you to do so. Remember to reapply after swimming, towelling off or excessive sweating. If you have an allergic reaction to a sunscreen, try another brand or look for a fragrance-free product such as a toddler or sensitive sunscreen. You can always consult your healthcare professional or local chemist for advice on choosing another product.
Purchase a high quality product, ideally with an SPF 30 or higher and check to make sure it offers broad spectrum protection. Decide whether you need it for every day incidental use or extended outdoor use. Once you choose the right sunscreen, use it correctly and remember, sunscreen is just one vital part of a complete sun protection program.
Sable Pharmacy stocks a large range of sun care products and pharmacy supplies and our friendly staff are on hand to help with all your sun protection questions and needs. Visit one of our three conveniently located stores today.