You know how important it is to wear sunscreen… it’s pretty much a given these days. Australia has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world and using a sunscreen on the daily is something most of us have grown-up knowing to be an essential part of our self-care routine. But how much do you really know about the sunscreen you are using?
Unfortunately, not all sunscreens are the same and you can’t just pick one out based on the SPF value alone. Here are 7 things you must know when choosing a sunscreen.
#1: Check for an AUST number
In Australia, the ARTG (Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods) is a central point of control and regulation for all products that make any type of ‘medical claim’, such as ‘protecting against UV radiation’. Having an AUST number on your sunscreen means that it has been assessed and approved by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) to meet mandatory requirements regarding ingredients and manufacturing as well as the information that can be displayed on the labelling. If there is no AUST number, the sunscreen might be unapproved or only ‘cosmetic’, and may not protect you against sunburn or skin cancer. https://www.tga.gov.au/blogs/tga-topics/everything-you-ever-wanted-know-about-sunscreens-were-afraid-ask
#2: Make sure it’s broad spectrum
Prolonged and unprotected exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted from the sun is a major contributor to the development of skin cancer. There are two types of UV radiation that we must protect ourselves from; UVA and UVB, and while they both differ in how they affect the skin, unprotected exposure to either leads to DNA damage in skin cells, causing genetic defects and mutations that lead to, not only skin cancer, but premature ageing as well! Choosing a broad spectrum sunscreen means that you will be protecting your skin from both UVA’s deeply penetrating, wrinkle causing damage and UVB’s more superficial reddening and burning of the skin’s surface.
#3: Understand the Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
The SPF number on your sunscreen indicates how well it will protect your skin from sunburn; the amount of time it takes for your skin to start developing redness when wearing the sunscreen compared to when wearing no sun protection at all. The higher the number, the stronger and longer the protection will be. However, it’s important to keep in mind that other factors such as skin type, the UV levels at the time of exposure and your activity, such as swimming or sweating will affect the SPF.
While a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 is ideal for occasional exposure, like taking your dog for a walk around the block or driving to work; an SPF of 30 or higher is a non-negotiable for extended outdoor activities like long walks, outdoor work or sports, and days at the beach.
Keep in mind, an SPF50+ sunscreen offers the same level of UVB protection as an SPF30… however, an SPF50+ offers extra protection against wrinkle causing UVA radiation, allowing 1/50th of ambient UV radiation through as apposed to only 1/30th from a SPF30.
#4: Know the key ingredients
Taking a look at a sunscreen’s ingredients will help you determine if it will provide you with safe and effective coverage. It’s a common misconception that sunscreen ingredients pose health risks due to some absorption into the bloodstream however a research review conducted by the TGA in 2017 showed that when used as directed, most active sunscreen ingredients are considered safe in humans and any amounts absorbed into the bloodstream are so small that they are unlikely to be toxic.
There are two types of sunscreens:
Physical sunscreens contain micronised titanium dioxide or zinc oxide and work by leaving a physical barrier on the skin that deflect and scatter the UV rays.
Chemical Sunscreens have a greater ability to filter UVA and UVB rays and are capable of providing a higher SPF rating than most physical sunscreens. Two chemicals with high toxicity concerns include oxybenzone and octinoxate however all sunscreens sold in Australia that have an AUST number have passed strict regulations imposed by the TGA; some of the strictest regulations in the world.
#5: Body, face or both?
Sunscreens come in various types of consistencies. From heavier lanolin, oil and silicone based formulations to more lightweight and dry-to-touch emulsions. Choosing a sunscreen that is quick and easy to incorporate into your daily routine will make it more likely that you will actually use it. To keep things as simple as possible, you should ideally look for a sunscreen that can be used both on the face and the body. If you wear make-up on the daily, then look for a make-up friendly option that won’t feel too heavy or greasy.
The Australian Skin Institute has recently released their ASI Everyday Daylight Defence 50+ protector; a nourishing and non-greasy formulation for face and body. It’s quick dry application means it’s perfect for using underneath your make-up or your favourite silky dress.
With a high broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection, the ASI Daylight Defence SPF50+ feels clean and weightless and is fragrance free, so it won’t sabotage your perfume. It contains no parabens, oxybenzone, 4-methylbzylidene camphor or PABA and has a low irritant, water resistant formulation.
6# Go above and beyond
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that sunscreen should never be your only line of defence, especially when spending extended periods outdoors. The Cancer Council of Australia recommends that you slip, slop slap even in cooler temps when the UV index is 3 or above.
Slipping on some sun protective clothing and a broad brim hat as well as applying your sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside will give you the best defence against UV radiation.