Slop on sunscreen!
Tips for choosing and using sunscreen well
Most people apply too little sunscreen.
When using sunscreen, remember:
- no sunscreen provides full protection so never rely on sunscreen alone
- choose sunscreen that is SPF30 or higher, broad spectrum and water resistant
- apply sunscreen evenly to clean, dry skin 20 minutes before going out into the sun
- re-apply all sunscreens every two hours, or more often, when sweating
- check and follow the ‘use by' date stated on the packaging
- store sunscreen below 30°C
- use a generous amount of sunscreen. The average-sized adult should apply more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen (about 3 ml) to each arm and the face/neck (incuding ears), and just over one teaspoon (6 ml) to each leg, the front of the body and the back of the body. That is, approximately 35 ml of sunscreen for one full body application.
- the risk of allergies and cross infection from sunscreen use is very small. Perfumes and/or preservatives in the product, not the chemicals that filter UV, are usually the cause of allergic reactions to sunscreen. If a child has 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 also contact the manufacturer about sunscreen ingredients. A doctor or chemist could also offer advice about choosing another product.
- advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council states that children who are able to apply their own sunscreen (under supervision) should be encouraged to do so. This fosters independence and responsibility. For those unable to apply sunscreen, it is recommended that if a carer is doing 'mass sunscreen applying' they should wash their hands before and after the task. They can use a different tissue for each child when applying the sunscreen, however, unless the child (or the carer) has a visible skin disease or a cold/virus, it is not really an infection-control issue. If a child does have a visible skin disease e.g. eczema or open skin wound, or a cold/virus, their sunscreen should be applied last using gloves or a tissue.
Download the fact sheet Sunscreen [pdf 151K] for more information about using sunscreen to protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure and damage.
How to apply sunscreen properly
Use the Sunscreen calculator to find out how much sunscreen you need to apply to reach the level of protection stated on the label. The calculator provides an approximate amount of sunscreen required for one full body application based on your size and clothing cover.
Nanoparticles and sunscreen
Nanotechnology has been used in sunscreens for many years. To date, the Cancer Council's assessment, drawing on the best available evidence, is that nanoparticulates used in sunscreens do not pose a risk. However, we continue to monitor research and welcome any new research that sheds more light on this topic.
Sunscreen formulas and their components are regulated through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). In early 2009, the TGA conducted an updated review of the scientific literature in relation to the use of nanoparticulate zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreens.
The TGA review concluded that:
- The potential for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreens to cause adverse effects depends primarily upon the ability of the nanoparticles to reach viable skin cells; and
- To date, the current weight of evidence suggests that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles do not reach viable skin cells; rather, they remain on the surface of the skin and in the outer layer of the skin that is composed of non-viable cells.
View the TGA's report concerning the safety of sunscreens.
Cancer Council looks closely at TGA's advice, as well as our own evidence-based reviews.
Sunscreens also use 'microfine' or 'micronised' particles, which are larger than nanoparticles:
- Nanoparticles are smaller than 100 nanometres and invisible to the human eye – a nanometre is 0.000001 millimetre.
- Microfine particles are smaller than those used in conventional white zinc sunscreens, however are larger than nanoparticles – usually in the range of 100 to 2500 nanometres.
In the manufacturing process used to produce microfine particles, some particles can inadvertently be ground smaller, ending up being classified as nano-sized. Manufacturers advise this is a small percentage of the total, generally less than one per cent and does not classify the sunscreen as nano-based.
Irrespective, there is no credible evidence that sunscreens containing nanoparticles pose a health risk.
Sunscreen has been proven to reduce the risk of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Skin cancer claims almost 1900 lives each year in Australia and we urge Australians to continue to protect themselves with all five sun protection measures when ultraviolet (UV) radiation is at damaging levels. In Victoria, this is generally from September to April each year.
Time to stock up on sunscreen and raise funds for your early childhood service, school or sports club. See Smart fundraising sunscreen for details.