When used correctly sunscreen can protect against sunburn and sun damage. Sunscreen should be used to decrease exposure to UV radiation, not to increase the amount of time spent in the sun.

Applying sunscreen

The protective effect of sunscreen depends on correct application.

  • Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure to allow time for it to dry and be absorbed into the skin.
  • The average sized adult should apply 1 teaspoon to each arm, and to the face (including the ears and neck); and at least a teaspoon to each leg, the front of body, and the back of body.
  • Always reapply sunscreen every two hours when you are outdoors and more often if you are sweating or in water.

What should I look for when buying sunscreen?

  • Choose a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
  • Look for AS/NZ 2604 standard on the label.
  • Price is not always an indication of quality.

What is SPF?

  • SPF stands for ‘Sun Protection Factor’. It's a measure of how well sunscreen protects the skin from sunburn.
  • The higher the SPF number, the more UV radiation is filtered out and the greater the protection.
  • No matter how high the SPF rating, no sunscreen can screen out all UV radiation. All sunscreens are filters allowing some UV radiation to pass through to the skin.

What is the difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50?

  • The Cancer Society advises that SPF30 sunscreen is sufficient for sun protection if applied correctly.
  • Higher SPF sunscreens are available, however, they still need to be correctly applied and reapplied regularly.
  • When you follow the instructions on the label, SPF30 filters 96.7% of UV radiation.  SPF50+ filters 98% of UV radiation. 

What is broad spectrum?

  • The sun produces three types of UV radiation, A, B and C. Broad spectrum means your sunscreen filters out both skin UVA and UVB radiation, which can cause skin cancer. UVC radiation is absorbed in the atmosphere and does not reach the Earth.
  • UVA penetrates deep into the skin, affecting the cells that lie deep under the skin’s surface causes aging of the skin and long-term damage.
  • UVB radiation penetrates the skin’s top layer, causing sunburn and long-term damage.

Is sunscreen safe?

To date, there is no scientific evidence showing long-term side effects following regular use of sunscreen.

Sunscreen and babies

  • Do not use sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months and be cautious about using sunscreen on babies under one year of age. It is safer to keep babies in shade and protective clothing. 
  • If using sunscreen on a baby or toddler’s skin test it on a small area of their skin first and leave for 24 hours to check for a reaction. Stop use immediately if there is a reaction.

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Last Updated: Wednesday 27 May, 2020