We all learned about UV light in school, but how much of that still sticks in the memory? After baby brain-drain, probably very little.
It’s not new news that sunburn in childhood is a clear risk factor for skin cancer in later life.
But although sunscreen can prevent the skin from scorching, there’s minimal evidence that it prevents skin cancer by itself, according to health-review body Cochrane.
The best way to reduce your risk of melanoma is by avoiding the mid-day sun and combining sun protection: sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and shirt sleeves. And this advice comes from Australia, land of the sunshine!
UV Light: Did you know…?
The sun produces two types of ultraviolet radiation we need to worry about: UVA and UVB.
When we were all kids, sunscreens only protected against UVB—the chief cause of sunburn and key cause of skin cancer.
Over the years this became the main focus of researchers and sun cream manufacturers, with SPF ratings relating to UVB rays only.
Many territories now ban SPF ratings greater than 50+ as they haven’t been proven to work better.
It’s just recently that the harmful effects of UVA rays have been recognised.
Less intense than UVB, they are present no matter the time of day or season—penetrating the skin and damaging cells too.
Get Dual Protection
American and European sunscreens must now meet regulations that ensure they protect against both UVA and UVB.
So when you’re choosing sun protection, look for brands that call themselves Broad Spectrum Sunscreens—the SPF labelling will reflect the protection they offer against both cancerous rays.
TIP: If you buy a European sunscreen, you’ll be getting better UVA protection as regulations are stricter than in the U.S.
Know Your SPF
If you’re just choosing a sunscreen for its SPF (Sun Protection Factor), then you may be mistakenly assuming that the higher the number, the better the protection.
In fact, many territories now ban SPF ratings greater than 50+ as they haven’t been proven to work better—and can fool people into thinking you can stay in the sun for longer.
According to the U.S Skin Cancer Foundation, SPF 15 filters out around 93% of UVB rays; SPF 30 keeps out 97% and SPF 50 filters 98%, if applied regularly.
TIP: You’ll find many Asian brands don’t adhere to this practice, where you’ll still find sky-high SPF ratings on bottles.
Apply Liberally, Frequently
If you’ve turned your child’s skin white with sunscreen, you’ve probably applied enough. You should be caking on at least two tablespoons of cream every two hours in order to realise the claims of the SPF labels. Many people unfortunately don’t apply nearly this much!
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen every day if you’re outside—even on cloudy days, when up to 80% of UV rays can still penetrate your skin.
This is particularly important if you’re around snow, sand and water which reflect the sun’s rays.
TIP: Sunscreens do go off, so do not use them past the expiration date. If none is listed, store in a cool place for up to three years. In humid conditions closer to 40°C, you’re looking at about three months—discard if you notice changes in color or consistency.
Dose Up On Minerals
Mineral-only (sometimes referred to as ‘natural’) sunscreens that feature one or both of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients are increasingly popular.
These minerals are physical UV blockers that will help prevent sun damage without using potentially harmful chemicals or additives.
It’s worth noting that these sunscreens contain zinc and titanium nanoparticles, which has caused some controversy—despite no evidence these penetrate the skin or cause harm.
TIP: Some brands have now gone ‘non-nano’ to mitigate any potential risk from nanoparticles.
Avoid Daily Toxins
Chemical sunscreens are the most common type of sunscreen on the market. But if you’re applying sunscreen daily, you may want to avoid excessive chemicals.
Although they do a decent job at repelling the sun’s rays, these following active ingredients could be toxic: avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.
Some are thought to be worse than others, with oxybenzone being one of the most highly debated UV blockers.
TIP: If you want the effectiveness of a chemical filter, avobenzone provides the best UV protection and is the least harmful of the lot.
Spray It On?
The safety of spray-on sunscreens is under attack by the well-respected Environmental Working Group (an American NGO).
Its researchers are concerned that these products may not provide a thick, even coating on the skin, and that you may accidentally inhale the ingredients.
Although consumer reports recommend avoiding them, there’s no official advice either way yet.
Foam or mousse sunscreens sidestep the aerosol controversy. They also spread easily (especially on kids) to provide excellent broad-spectrum coverage.
TIP: For little faces, a sunscreen stick is a handy on-the-go item and it smears on nice and thick.