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SPF & your skin

Over here in Australia, as well as other parts of the Southern Hemisphere, it’s summer. No “white Christmas” for us! (However you wouldn’t think it today, as in Adelaide it is cloudy, gusty, and looks like we’re in for a storm. 😦 ) It can get up to (and sometimes beyond!) 40 degrees Celsius and the sun is very strong compared to other countries – we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world! This led me to think about the sunscreen that I use on my body throughout the summer, as well as the facial and body moisturisers containing sunscreen that I use throughout the year. I started to do some research, and this article was born… I hope that you enjoy it! It will also be appearing in the December issue of MIKA Magazine.


Sunscreen, suncream, sunblock. Whatever you want to call it, it has been a great invention. It helps protect our skin from the sun’s rays and helps prevent premature ageing. In recent years cosmetics companies have released foundations and other products which contain sunscreen.

However, sunscreens and cosmetics containing sunscreen do not always have accurate labelling nor do they necessarily have all the information we need to make a decision about whether or not the product will do what it claims to do.

What is β€œSPF”? It stands for Sunburn Protection Factor and refers to how much ultraviolet radiation from the sun is needed to burn skin protected by a particular sunscreen compared to unprotected skin. SPF does not refer to how much time you will be safe in the sun without protective clothing (such as a hat, long sleeved shirt, etc).

One’s skin tone, the time of day and weather conditions one is exposed to, and the amount of sunscreen one applies is also very important. According to the Cancer Council of Australia, it is best to seek shade at all times, but particularly between the hours of 10am and 2pm, and between the hours of 11am and 3pm during daylight saving time (which in Australia applies to most States and Territories over the summer months). One should also apply at least 1 teaspoon of sunscreen to each limb and to the front and back of the body. At least Β½ a teaspoon should be applied to the face, neck and ears.

What SPF level is enough? When you look at the different products out there, sometimes they can run from as low as 10 through to 30+ or even higher. The Skin Cancer Foundation (United States) advises that only products with an SPF value of 15 or higher provide adequate protection against skin cancer.

One of the most important things to consider when wearing sunscreen is timing. You need to apply it at least 20 minutes before going out into the sun. From the sources that I consulted (as per the footnotes!), you should reapply every 2 hours regardless of what the packaging says on your products.

As many of you may know, the sun produces 3 types of rays – UVA and B, which reach the Earth, and UVC which the ozone layer protects us from. Both UVA and B can cause sunburn, premature ageing,

and place one at risk of developing skin cancer, and all sunscreen based products will typically protect you from UVB. However, just because a product tells you it has an SPF of 15 or more does not guarantee that it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. How can you tell? Check the ingredients. To also protect you from UVA, zinc or one of its derivatives is usually used. Additionally, there needs to be at least 5% of the zinc or zinc derivative product to give you adequate protection. Some products will list the percentage and others will not, so use your judgement to decide if the particular product is right for you.

Last, it is important to remember that use of sunscreen alone will not protect you completely from the sun. Wear a hat and sunglasses, consider wearing some light long sleeved clothing or a kaftan when at the beach, and try and avoid being out in the full sun for long periods of time.

Enjoy the sun but remember to be sun smart! πŸ™‚

US Food & Drug Administration – Sunburn Protection Factor –
Cancer Council Australia – Preventing Skin Cancer –
Cancer Council Australia – Position Statement: Use of SPF 30+ Sunscreens –
Skin Cancer Foundation – Sunscreen –


December 2011




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