Questions and Answers

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?
It is mainly the ultra violet rays, UVA and UVB which cause the damage. 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 cancer. UVC rays are the most dangerous but as they are blocked out by the ozone layer, they don’t reach the earth’s surface. A broad spectrum, SPF30+ sunscreen will help protect against UVA and UVB radiation.
Can sunscreens be used on babies and young children?
Cancer Council recommends keeping babies out of the direct sun as much as possible when UV levels are 3 or above. When this is not possible, ensure they stay in the shade as much as possible and wear protective clothing and a hat. Broad spectrum, SPF30+ sunscreen (or higher) may be applied to small areas of skin that cannot be protected by clothing (such as face, ears and backs of hands).
Can you burn on a cloudy day?
Yes you can, as a significant amount of UV can pass through clouds.
What other precautions should be used, other than sunscreens?
Cancer Council recommends people avoid excessive exposure to the sun. 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.
Can I still get sunburned if I apply sunscreen?
One of the most common consumer complaints is that of people being sunburnt even after applying sunscreen. When this happens, invariably the consumer suspects that there is something wrong with ‘that particular batch of sunscreen’ or that ‘there are insufficient active ingredients in the sunscreen’.
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.In all cases that have been investigated, where a consumer has been sunburned after applying sunscreen, it has invariably been found to be due to applying insufficient sunscreen and/or not reapplying sunscreen often enough.The labels of most sunscreen products include statements such as “reapply frequently” or “reapply generously after 2 hours exposure“. Cancer Council sunscreen labels even go one step further. By stating in the DIRECTIONS, “1 teaspoon full per body part, per application, which equates to 35mls (or approximately 7 teaspoons full) for a full body application for an average sized adult” we are trying to better quantify the minimum amount of sunscreen that should be used and to impress upon the consumer the importance of using sufficient sunscreen. That means that a normal 110ml tube of sunscreen is only sufficient for 3 full adult body applications! In theory, this should mean that sunscreens will continue to provide adequate protection from sun burn if applied as directed. However, there are a number of well-known variables which could affect the ability of the sunscreen to protect users from sun burn. Among the variables that can cause the ‘dilution’ or removal of sunscreen on the skin are a variety of physical activities such as surfing, water skiing, swimming, towelling, wiping, perspiring, putting on and taking off of clothing, applying sunscreen to wet or sandy skin, etc. That is why it is imperative that sunscreens be RE-APPLIED at least EVERY 2 HOURS irrespective of the water resistance rating of the sunscreen. Some sunscreens in European countries and elsewhere have SPF ratings much higher than 30+, for example SPF 60 and even SPF 100, so why are there no such sunscreens available for sale in Australia?Firstly, SPF testing protocols are, unfortunately, not universal. Therefore SPF ratings on UK/EU sunscreens cannot be compared directly with SPF ratings of Australian/NZ sunscreens. The SPF rating for Australian/NZ sunscreens is determined ‘post immersion’ using an Australian standard method which subjects the sunscreen to the SPF test after it is applied to the skin AND after immersion in turbulent water under controlled standard conditions.

On the other hand, UK/EU SPF test protocol is ‘pre immersion’, which means that the sunscreen is SPF tested, without the skin surface that has had the sunscreen applied to it, being immersed in turbulent water BEFORE the SPF test. In other words the Australian SPF test protocol is more robust than the UK/EU procedure and more relevant to Australian conditions.Secondly, Cancer Council and other health promotion bodies in Australia/NZ are concerned that the raising of claimable SPF greater than the current 30+ numeral designation may give people a false sense of security and encourage much longer exposure to the sun, with the likelihood of further burning incidents and increased skin cancer risk.

It is considered that an SPF factor of 30+ is more than enough protection against sunburn under normal conditions of exposure and time and that to increase the SPF numeral above 30 may do more harm than good. Therefore, TGA regulations do not permit SPF factor numerals greater than 30 to be claimed on sunscreen labels. Notwithstanding this, all broad spectrum SPF 30+ rated sunscreen formulations in Australia/NZ will have an SPF rating greater than 30 but the exact rating numeral cannot be claimed, hence the use of the designation 30+ which means that the sunscreen has an SPF factor greater than 30.

Is the use of sunscreen, when outdoors, sufficient protection to reduce the risk of permanent skin damage and skin cancer?
Health promotion bodies will continue to stress that the use of sunscreen is no substitute for other sensible sun protection measures, and that sunscreens should always be used in conjunction with precautions including staying out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and covering other exposed parts of the body when out in the sun.

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.