Sunscreen use is recommended as part of the SunSmart, Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek, Slide message encouraging us to be SunSmart. Sunscreens contain active ingredients as physical blockers of the damaging UV radiation or chemical blockers, many contain both. Chemical blockers absorb the UV radiation, convert it to heat and dissipate it through your skin. Physical blockers reflect the UV and scatter it away from the skin. The other components in sunscreen act as preservatives and the emulsion.  The aloe vera, antioxidants and vitamins advertised as being added to sunscreens are largely gimmicks for marketing purposes.

The chemical filters can cause irritation and in rare cases allergy, including photoallergy - sensitivity in the presence of sun. If you have sensitive skin, try a patch test on your inner arm of a new sunscreen and leave it for 24hrs to check for a reaction. Some sunscreens are marketed for toddlers and children, these usually contain more physical blockers and less chemical filters.

There has been some concern about chemical sunscreens acting as endocrine disruptors in humans. This activity has been shown in animal and tissue tests as very high doses compared to the amount used on human skin for sun protection.  The chemicals concerned include oxybenzone, octyl methocinnamate, homosalate and 4-MBC. The studies finding no human estrogenic effects estimated that the currently approved sunscreens would need to be 100 000 times more potent before they showed any hormonal effects. Newer ingredients have been designed with a higher molecular weight to decrease skin penetration and are considered even safer. .

The physical blocker sunscreens contain minute particles of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to reflect and scatter UV radiation. Both offer broad spectrum protection, zinc oxide offers better UVA protection than titanium dioxide. These forms are generally considered safer and better options for sensitive skin, but can give a ghostly appearance to the skin. The ghosting problem has been reduced by the micronizing process, but gave way to concerns regarding the safety of the nanoparticles produced. Research to date has not found that nanoparticles in sunscreen can penetrate below the outer layers of skin unless the skin is broken. Manufacturers also coat the nanoparticles so they don't react to form potentially hazardous free radicals.

Insect repellent such as DEET can affect the sunscreen and reduce the SPF effectiveness by a third and are not recommended.

Sunscreens are regulated by the TGA, the approval can be checked by the AUST L number, usually on the back of the container. If the product does not have an AUST L number, it is not approved by the TGA. This indicates a lack of testing according to sunscreen standards for effectiveness and safety. The TGA assesses safety: after many years, there remains no evidence that daily use results in anything other than sun protection. Most active sunscreen ingredients have been used globally for more than 20 years.  Regular use of sunscreen significantly reduces the development of wrinkles, squamous cell cancers and melanoma.

A number of studies have shown sunscreen use to have minimal effect on Vitamin D levels.  In summer most Australians get enough Vitamin D through incidental sun exposure, this has also been demonstrated in several large Australian studies - the links can be found on the website.

Artificial tanning products do not protect against exposure to UV radiation from the sun, some have sunscreen included, more sunscreen will need to be applied at the same rate as usual.

Most sunscreen failure is due to human error, failure to use enough, not reapplying after swimming or exercising and failure to reapply as frequently as required. The sunscreen needs to be applied evenly and not rubbed in excessively, they absorb into the outer skin layers without rubbing. The container needs to be stored at temperatures less than 30 degrees as they will lose effectiveness with heat. ( think in the esky, in the shade and not kept in the glovebox of a car.

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. Protecting your skin reduces your risk of developing skin cancer and also from the premature aging effects of sun exposure. Sunscreen is just one of the ways to protect skin from UV effects.

Slip on sun protective clothing that covers as much of your body as possible, particularly recommended for infants and toddlers to reduce the sunscreen needed and allows increased protection.

Slop on SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum ( protects against UVA and UVB) , water-resistant sunscreen at least 20 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours when outdoors and more often when swimming or perspiring.  The SPF indicates how much UV gets through the sunscreen. A SPF of 30 indicates one-thirtieth of the UV will reach your skin ( filtering out 96.7 percent of the UV)  A SPF of 50 protects you from 98 percent. To get the correct level of SPF, the right amount of sunscreen neds to be applied, at least one teaspoonful per limb, one for each side of the torso and one for the head. All sunscreens must be rated against the Australian Standard, so the cheapest 50 plus sunscreen must provide the same sun protection as the most expensive.

Slap on a broad-brimmed hat

Seek shade, particularly between 11 and 3pm The World Health Organisation recommends protecting your skin when the UV index is 3 or above. The Bureau of Meteorology reports on the UV index across Australia and the SunSmart App allows you to get live reading on your smartphone

Slide on sunglasses

For more details regarding the testing of sunscreens, the various products compared and rated, see or

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