The Skin Clinic Fremantle | Dr Sarah Boxley


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image of a young woman applying sunscreen to her face in the morning

Sunscreen: When should you use it?

 

Research from The Cancer Council’s recent National Sun Protection Survey show that nearly one in two Australians mistakenly believe that sunscreen can’t be used safely on a daily basis. 

For some years now, we have been advising our patients about the daily use of sunscreen here in Perth. We have been very pleased to see that in the last few weeks, the peak bodies responsible for sun safety advice in Australia and New Zealand have published an updated policy on sunscreen use, which makes our advice not only evidence-based but now also the accepted recommendation in this country.

The advice is now simple: make sunscreen part of your morning routine, just like brushing your teeth.

The national policy change has come about following a national Sunscreen Summit in Brisbane last year, that examined the current evidence on sunscreen use, and was published at the end of January in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. The publication, led by Professor David Whitman and Associate Professor Rachel Neale from QIMR Berhofer Medical Research Institute, shows that there is now clear evidence on the benefits of daily sunscreen use.

As Associate Professor Neale explains “up until now, most public health organisations have recommended applying sunscreen ahead of planned outdoor activities but haven’t specifically recommended applying it every day as part of a morning routine,”

“In Australia, we get a lot of incidental sun exposure from everyday activities such as walking to the bus stop or train station, or hanging out washing.

“In recent years, it has become clear that the DNA damage that causes skin cancer and melanoma accumulates with repeated small doses of sunlight.

“At last year’s Sunscreen Summit, we examined all of the evidence around sunscreen use and we have come to a consensus that Australians should apply sunscreen every day when the maximum UV level is forecast to be three or higher.”

“For much of Australia, that means people should apply sunscreen all year round, but in areas like Tasmania and Victoria there are a few months over winter when sunscreen is not required.”

Facts you need to know:

  • Australia has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world.
  • Research shows undoubtedly that sunscreen helps prevent skin cancer, including the deadliest form, melanoma.
  • There is consistent and compelling evidence that sunscreens are safe for human use
  • Adverse reactions such as allergies occur in a very low proportion of the population
  • Clinical trials have found that people who use sunscreen daily have the same levels of vitamin D as those who don’t.
  • The recommendation to apply sunscreen every day is to protect against the little bits of incidental UV exposure that most of us get each day, that cause damage over time.
  • Sunscreen is not a suit of armour – if you are planning outdoor activities you should also seek shade, wear a hat, protective clothing and sunglasses, and reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours.
  • Regular skin checks can save lives  – get your skin checked annually by your GP, a Skin Cancer Clinic (a list of accredited doctors can be found here) or a Dermatologist.

So what is the NEW RECOMMENDATION?

Sunscreen* should be applied and used regularly:

  • During everyday activities which add up over time (e.g. travelling to and from work; doing household chores; shopping etc)
  • During any planned or prolonged outdoor activities (e.g. doing outdoor work; gardening; playing or watching sport; going to the pool or beach; exercising outdoors etc)
Sunscreen for everyday activities

When the UV index is forecast to reach 3 or above, it is recommended that sunscreen is applied every day to the face, ears, scalp if uncovered, neck and all parts of the body not covered by clothing. Ideally, this would form part of the morning routine. This protects the skin from the harmful effects of everyday sun exposure.

Sunscreen for planned or prolonged outdoor activities

During planned or prolonged outdoor activities, for the best protection it is recommended that sunscreen is used along with other sun protection measures (i.e. clothing to cover as much of the skin as possible; hats; sunglasses; shade and scheduling outdoor activities to avoid the middle part of the day).

When the UV index is forecast to reach 3 or above, sunscreen should be applied to the face, ears, scalp if uncovered, neck and all parts of the body not covered by clothing.

Sunscreen should be re‐applied every 2 hours or more frequently if swimming, sweating or towel drying.

Sunscreens should not be used to promote tanning, but rather as one of five strategies (along with shade, hats, clothing, sunglasses) to reduce exposure to harmful UV radiation.

So, based on the average daily maximum UV index, residents in Australia’s capital cities should apply sunscreen daily in the following months:

Brisbane, Perth & Darwin

All year round

Sydney

Every month except June

Canberra & Adelaide

Every month except June & July

Melbourne

Every month except May, June & July

Hobart

Every month except May-August

 

*“sunscreen” means sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more and compliant with Australian/New Zealand Sunscreen Standard AS/NZS 2604:2012.

To read the full recommendation “When to apply sunscreen: a consensus statement for Australia and New Zealand” click here