The most important way to prevent your skin from getting sun damaged and subsequently forming skin cancers is TO PROTECT IT FROM THE SUN.
The 5 simple sun safe measures are:
- SLIP on a shirt (actually clothes in general).
- SLOP on a SPF 30+ broad spectrum sunscreen (and remember to reapply).
- SLAP on a broad brimmed hat.
- SLIDE on quality (UV rated) sunglasses.
- SHADE from the sun wherever possible, especially during the peak hours between 10-11am and 3-4pm.
In fact staying out of the sun is the most important measure, but accepting that this is nigh on impossible living in Australia, covering up is the next most important. Sunscreen, whilst vital when we must expose our skin, is actually the least important protective measure.
Which Sunscreen is Best?
We are fortunate in Australia to have a massive range of sunscreens to choose from.
In general sunscreens should be rated sun protection factor (SPF) 30+ and broad spectrum. This will ensure you get the optimum UVB and UVA protection.
For optimum duration of activity, especially for water based activities and in situations of heavy sweating, a “water resistant” agent should be used. These often are the “Sport” brands. However, these must be reapplied, typically every 2-4 hours.
All sunscreens need to be reapplied with continued sun exposure, every two hours for gels/sprays or light creams/milks and every four hours for the “sport” products.
Non-water resistant products lose their effectiveness almost immediately you immersed in water.
For long periods of sun exposure eg surfing or boating, the more you can cover with rashies, wetsuits and clothes, the better. Zinc based sunscreens are also useful with these activities.
There is no “the best” sunscreen. The best sunscreen is the one that is right for the activity and the conditions and which is tolerated by your skin.
Are there problems with sunscreens?
The main problem is chemical irritation. As many as 25% of people have some degree of irritation with sunscreens. Usually this is mild and can be sorted with a trial and error approach.
True allergy is rare, but will result in sever skin reactions. It is essential that this diagnosis be made correctly and the offending chemical(s) be identified and completely avoided. Generally this will require patch testing performed by a Dermatologist.
Photo toxicity and Photoallergy are extremely rare. This is where the interaction of sunlight with sunscreen chemicals leads to a severe “sunburn” like reaction.
This will require diagnosis and special management by a Dermatologist.
Do sunscreens predispose to skin cancer?
Are nanoparticles dangerous in any way?
There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support this notion.
- Apply the sunscreen half an hour before sun exposure. It needs to absorb into the epidermis of the skin to be effective.
- Don’t use “old” sunscreen. Sunscreen effectiveness reduces over time. In general dispose of sunscreen over 12 months old.