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FAQ

Sunscreens

  • How do sunscreens work?

    Sunscreens work in two ways:
    1. By absorbing most of the UV
    2. By reflecting most of the UV away from your skin
    Most reflective sunscreens contain a physical blocker such as Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide which further increases their effectiveness.

  • What do SPF numbers mean?

    SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The SPF is a laboratory derived ratio which measures the increased amount of radiation which causes redness in skin when the sunscreen tested is applied, compared to when it is not used at all. For example if it takes 10 minutes for unprotected skin to show redness, then an SPF30 sunscreen correctly applied, will take 30 times as long or 300 minutes to burn. In reality, it is rare for a person to achieve this exact level of protection as factors like how much you apply, the weather and even your skin type will affect your level of protection. In fact, many Australians apply too little sunscreen. This results in sunscreen users achieving an SPF of between 50-80% less than that specified on the product label.

  • How much better are SPF 50+ sunscreens?

    Cancer Council recommends using sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or higher.  SPF30+ sunscreens filter about 96.7% of UV radiation while SPF50+ sunscreens provide only marginally better protection at 98% . SPF50+ sunscreen does not mean you can stay out of the sun for longer periods of time and you should also use sunscreen in conjunction with other sun protection measures - hats, sunglasses, clothing and  shade.

  • What does broad spectrum mean?

    A sunscreen labelled Broad Spectrum offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays. All Cancer Council sunscreens are broad spectrum.

  • How should sunscreens be best applied?

    Sunscreens should be applied on all exposed areas of skin 20 minutes before exposure to UV. It should be applied liberally and evenly to clean, dry skin. You should reapply more regularly if you are swimming, exercising or towel drying.

  • How often should sunscreen be applied?

    Cancer Council recommends that sunscreen be reapplied every two hours to ensure that ongoing protection occurs. You should reapply after swimming, exercising or towel drying.

  • Which of the sun’s rays actually cause skin cancer?

    Both UVA and UVB cause skin damage and contribute to premature aging, sunburn and skin cancer. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin, gradually destroying elasticity and causing premature ageing. UVB rays cause skin damage and can alter the structure of skin cells, and ultimately lead to possible skin cancers. A broad spectrum, SPF30+ (or higher) sunscreen will help protect against both UVA and UVB radiation.

  • Can sunscreens be used on babies and young children?

    It is important to ensure that infants are well protected from the sun. Childhood sun exposure contributes significantly to the lifetime risk of skin cancer, and babies’ skin is sensitive and can burn easily. Plan daily activities to ensure the infant is well protected from the sun and aim to minimise time (or take particular care) outside during the middle of the day during the summer period when UV levels are at their strongest.
    Whenever UV Index levels reach three and above, Cancer Council Australia recommends using a combination of sun protection measures, including to:

      • Seek shade. Make use of any available full shade and provide shade for the infant’s pram, stroller or play area.
      • Slip on clothing that covers as much of the infant’s skin as possible.
      • Slap on a broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire style hat so the infant’s face, neck and ears are protected.
      • Slop on broad spectrum water resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or above to any small areas of skin that cannot be protected by clothing. Sunscreen should be applied 15-20 minutes before going outside. Sunscreen is your last line of protection.
      • Slide on some sunglasses, if practical, to protect the eyes.

     Check the infant’s clothing, hat and shade positioning regularly to ensure he/she continues to be well protected from UV.

    If infants are kept out of the sun or well protected from UV radiation by clothing, hats and shade, then sunscreen need only be used occasionally on very small areas of an infant’s skin.

    The Australasian College of Dermatologists does not recommend the widespread regular use of chemical sunscreens in very young babies (less than six months of age), as they absorb more of any chemical applied to the skin than adults. Sunscreens should be applied to areas of the skin not protected by clothing. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that sunscreens may be used on infants younger than six months on small areas of skin if adequate clothing and shade are not available.

    There is no evidence that using sunscreen on babies is harmful, although some babies may develop minor skin irritation. True allergic contact dermatitis to the active chemicals in sunscreen is very rare, but may result from reactions to preservatives or perfumes in the product. Try sunscreen milks or creams for sensitive skin which are less likely to irritate the skin. It is best to test the sunscreen on a small patch of skin to ensure there are no reactions. As with all products, use of any sunscreen should cease if any unusual reaction occurs.

    For further information please read or position statement on sun protection and infants (0-12 months)

  • Can you burn on a cloudy day?

    Yes you can, as a significant amount of UV can pass through clouds. It’s important to focus on UV levels, not heat – sun protection is required whenever UV levels are 3 or above.

  • What other precautions should be used, other than sunscreens?

    Cancer Council recommends people avoid excessive exposure to UV.  Sunscreen should never be the first line of defence against sun damage. It is important to wear a broad brimmed hat, protective clothing, sunglasses and make use of shade where possible. Never use sunscreen to extend the time you would normally spend in the sun.

  • What are the ‘Active Ingredients’ listed on the back of the sunscreen tubes/labels?

    These are the ingredients used to absorb and/or reflect the harmful UVA and UVB rays generated by the sun. Some are better at absorbing UVA (eg Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane/‘Parsol’ , zinc oxide), while others are better at absorbing UVB (eg Octyl Methoxycinnamate, Titanium Dioxide) and some do both (eg Tinasorb). Most sunscreens use mixtures of UVA and UVB absorbers to optimise their sun protection properties. All sunscreen ingredients used in Australia are approved by the Therapeutic Goods Association.

  • What are the ‘Preservatives’ listed on the back of the tube/labels of sunscreens and why are they used?

    These are ingredients that are necessary to preserve the integrity of the sunscreen cream/lotion. Besides the active ingredients, sunscreens contain moisturisers, water, oils, emulsifiers and various other ingredients which help to maintain the cream emulsion and make the sunscreen pleasant and easy to apply. Without preservatives the sunscreen cream/lotion would support the growth of bacteria which could ‘spoil’ the cream/lotion and/or cause skin infections if they were to contaminate the sunscreen.

  • Why are there so many different sunscreen types?

    There are many sunscreen ingredients available that filter and/or reflect harmful UVA and UVB light generated by the sun. Some chemicals and ingredients absorb harmful rays, some reflect them and some do both. Most sunscreens contain a blend of such chemicals to optimise the SPF 30+ rating (or higher).  There are other characteristics such as water resistancy, ease of application, non-greasy, non-irritating, non-whitening, etc that require special formulations with different ingredients, sunscreen actives and preservatives.

  • How much sunscreen should I apply?

    For an adult, the recommended application is 5ml (approximately 1 teaspoon full) for each arm, leg, body front, body back and face (including neck and ears). That equates to a total of 35ml (approximately 7 teaspoons full) for a full body application.

  • How often should I reapply sunscreen?

    Sunscreen should always be reapplied at least every 2 hours. There are variables that can impact the effectiveness of sunscreen once it has been applied. Activities such as swimming, outdoor sports, perspiring, towelling or wiping the body, etc will result in diluting and/or removing sunscreen from the skin. Because sunscreen manufacturers cannot predict the circumstances under which sunscreens will be used, it is recommended that sunscreen be applied every 2 hours irrespective of the water resistance rating of the sunscreen.

  • What regulations are there for sunscreens in Australia?

    The manufacture of sunscreens is strictly regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Authority (TGA) of Australia , and part of this process is that all batches of sunscreen that are produced are thoroughly tested to ensure that the TGA approved formula is adhered to and that the quantity of approved active ingredients is present before they are released to the public.

Sunglasses

  • How much protection do Cancer Council sunglasses offer?

    All Cancer Council sunglasses are fitted with category 3 polarised lenses and have an eye protection factor of 10 – the maximum factor protection. All Cancer Council eyewear is independently tested by accredited laboratories such as ORLAB to ensure that the highest quality UV protection is offered to our customers. Sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat worn together can reduce UV radiation exposure to the eyes by up to 98 per cent.

Hats

  • What style of hat offers the best sun protection?

    A broad-brimmed, legionnaire or bucket style hat provides good protection for the face, nose, neck and ears, which are common sites for skin cancers. Caps and visors do not provide enough protection. Choose a hat made with closely woven fabric – if you can see through it, UV radiation will get through. Hats may not protect you from reflected UV radiation, so also wear sunglasses and sunscreen, long sleeve clothing, sunscreen and shade, where possible.

    All sun protective hats sold by Cancer Council have been independently tested and have a maximum rating of UPF50+.

Clothing

  • How do you choose sun protection clothing?   

    Choose clothing that:

    • Covers as much skin as possible eg. shirts with long sleeves and high necks/collars.
    • Is made from close weave materials such as cotton, polyester/cotton and linen.
    • If used for swimming, is made from materials such as lycra, which stays sun protective when wet.

    All Cancer Council clothing features Ultraviolet Protection Factor rating of UPF50+ and are made from durable, quick-drying fabrics.