Slop on sunscreen

During sun protection times when the UV is 3 and above, correctly apply SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen to any skin not covered by clothing.

Sun protection is more than just sunscreen. For the best protection when the UV is 3 and above, use all five forms of protection – clothing, sunscreen, a broad-brim hat, shade and sunglasses.

Sunscreen should be considered the last line of defence. No sunscreen blocks 100% of UV radiation. 

Understanding sunscreen

  1. Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of protection sunscreen gives against UVB radiation. The rating tells you how long the sun’s UV would take to redden your skin compared with using no sunscreen. For example, in theory SPF50 would take you 50 times longer to burn than if you use no sunscreen. In reality, we know that many Australians do not apply the right amount of sunscreen to achieve the SPF stated on the bottle, so correct application is key.
  2. SPF30 versus SPF50: In lab conditions, SPF30 filters 96.7% of UVB and SPF50 filters 98%. Both can provide excellent protection if they are applied properly.
  3. Broad-spectrum: There are different types of UV radiation. UVA rays are responsible for tanning and premature ageing, whereas UVB rays cause sunburn and skin cancer. A broad-spectrum sunscreen provides protection against both types of harmful rays.
  4. Water resistant: Sunscreens labelled as water resistant are tested to be effective for up to 40 minutes of swimming.
  5. Use by and storage: Expired sunscreen may not be effective so check the ‘use by’ date before applying. Store sunscreen correctly – below 30°C and out of direct sunlight.

How to apply sunscreen

Many Aussies apply too little sunscreen and forget to re-apply every two hours. This means they are likely to get less than half the protection stated on the product label. For sunscreen to work, correct application is essential.

  • You need more than you think: The average-sized adult needs a teaspoon of sunscreen for their head and neck, each limb and for the front and the back of the body. That’s about 35ml of sunscreen or 7 teaspoons for one full body application. Use our sunscreen calculator as a guide.
  • Apply early and reapply: Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before you go outside and reapplied every two hours (whether or not the label tells you to do this). Remember to reapply after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • The best sunscreen: The best sunscreen is the one that suits your skin type, activity and that you find easy to reapply. So try different products out until you find one you like. 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. A doctor or chemist could also offer advice about choosing another product.

Sunscreen tips

Sunscreen reactions and allergies

All sunscreens in Australia are tightly regulated through the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The risk of allergies from sunscreen use is very small. If an allergic reaction to sunscreen does occur, it is usually caused by perfumes and/or preservatives in the product, not the ingredients that filter or block UV. If a person experiences an allergic reaction to a sunscreen, look for a fragrance-free product such as a toddler or sensitive sunscreen.

If you are concerned about reactions to sunscreen, Cancer Council recommends performing a usage test before applying a new sunscreen. Apply a small amount of the product on the inside of the forearm for a few days to check if the skin reacts, prior to applying it to the rest of the body.

While the usage test may show whether the skin is sensitive to an ingredient in the sunscreen, it may not always indicate an allergy, as this may also occur after repeated use of the product. As with all products, use of any sunscreen should cease immediately and medical attention should be sought if any unusual reaction is observed. Professional assessment and testing by a dermatologist may be useful to identify the ingredient in the sunscreen that is causing the reaction.

Sunscreen tips for parents

  • Choose a sunscreen that your child feels comfortable wearing and is easy to apply.
  • From about the age of three, let children practise applying sunscreen so they can develop this skill ready for pre-school and school.
  • Set up a sunscreen station in the bathroom at home so children can apply their sunscreen in front of the mirror and then wipe their hands.
  • Pop sunscreen in the cooler section of their lunchbox so it will be cold when applying – especially refreshing on a hot, summer’s day.
  • Try a clip-on sunscreen that can hang from your child’s bag and act as a visual reminder.
  • Make sunscreen application a bit of fun and encourage children to put a dot of sunscreen on each cheek, nose and their chin and carefully rub it in (avoiding the eye area). They can add squiggles of sunscreen to any part of their arms and legs not covered with clothing.
  • Remember role modelling – children learn best from what they see adults doing. Apply your sunscreen at the same time so children can watch how you do it and follow your example.

Sunscreen and babies

We do not recommend widespread use of sunscreen on babies under 6 months old. Physical protection such as shade, clothing and broad-brimmed hats are the best sun protection measures. If babies are kept out of the sun or well protected from UV radiation by clothing, hats and shade, then sunscreen only needs be used occasionally on very small areas.

Sunscreen tips for childcare/preschool

Children who are able to apply their own sunscreen (under supervision) should be encouraged to do so. This fosters independence and responsibility. 

For children unable to apply their own sunscreen, it is recommended that if a carer is doing 'mass sunscreen applying' they should wash their hands before and after the task.

  • Ask parents/carers to note in the registration/attendance book that they have applied sunscreen at or before drop-off so educators can be sure a base layer has been applied and children are ready to play outside.
  • Appoint sunscreen buddies so children can help each other apply. 
  • Have sunscreen monitors.
  • Set up sunscreen stations – with a mirror and cloth for wiping hands. See our sunscreen station video.
  • Research indicates pump packs are easier for young children to use. They can pump a few dots of sunscreen into the palm of one hand and then use the pointer finger on their other hand to add dots of sunscreen to their face. The hand with the sunscreen can then be rubbed on the arm and leg. 
  • Encourage children to put a dot of sunscreen on each cheek, their nose and chin and rub it in (avoiding the eye area) with squiggles on their arms and legs.
  • Post reminder notes/posters near the door.
  • Play the SunSmart Countdown or You’ve got to be SunSmart song to remind children to apply sunscreen and grab their hat before outdoor play.
  • Create a sunscreen application chart with each child’s name to keep track of applications. Add a sticker or mark each time sunscreen is applied. The educator can then easily see if all children have had a sunscreen top-up. 
  • Style up your sunscreen – ask children to decorate the group sunscreen pump pack or personalise their own sunscreen bottle/tube and display it with pride ready to be applied. View some suggestions.  
  • Download the free SunSmart app – it shows the daily sun protection times and you can also set the sunscreen reminder.
  • Add the SunSmart widget to the service’s website so everyone can check the daily sun protection times and see when they need to use sun protection each day.

Download Sunscreen tips for early childhood

Sunscreen tips for primary school

Teachers are not expected to apply sunscreen to students but most schools should have strategies in place to help remind the students of when and how to apply it.

  • Suggest children bring along their own sunscreen that suits their skin – as long as it is SPF30 or higher, broad-spectrum and water-resistant. They could try a clip on and hang it on their school bag for easy storage, as well as being a visual reminder.
  • Store sunscreen with lunchboxes and/ or hats so when children grab their food or hat before going outdoors, they will also be reminded to slop on sunscreen. If sunscreen is kept in the cooler section of the lunchbox, it will be cold when applying – especially nice on a hot day. By the time the food has been eaten, the sunscreen should have had time to bind to the skin.
  • Appoint sunscreen buddies so children can help each other.
  • Have sunscreen monitors.
  • Set up sunscreen stations with a mirror and cloth or tissues for wiping hands. Try a sunscreen pump pack or roll on (they are usually easier to use).
  • Post reminder notes near the door or on the board
  • Make announcements over the PA.
  • Play the SunSmart Countdown song or sun sound before the recess bell to remind children to apply sunscreen and wear their hat.
  • Create a sunscreen application chart to keep track of applications, add a sticker or mark each time sunscreen is applied. Which student or team of children are the sunscreen application champions?
  • Download the free SunSmart app – set the sunscreen reminder and use the sunscreen calculator tool.
  • Use the SunSmart resources including curriculum activities to help children understand the importance of sunscreen and other sun protection measures.
  • Remember the value of teacher role modelling.
  • Include information about sunscreen in the school newsletter. Use one of SunSmart’s sample family notes.
  • Include sunscreen on the school booklist so each family remembers to send it along.

Download Sunscreen tips for sunscreen at school