New recommendations on sun protection

sunbathers at bondi

The Australasian College of Dermatologists has released a position statement on sun protection and sunscreens, including the need for better education about best use

“There has been some debate in the media and over social media this summer on the use of topical sunscreens,” President of the ACD, Associate Professor Chris Baker says.

“The ACD position statement aims to provide clear recommendations to the community about sunscreens, how they work and how to use them safely and effectively.

“It also provides guidance on general sun protection and its benefits in reducing the risk of skin cancer and premature aging.”

How effective a sunscreen is depends on how well it is applied and most people do not apply enough, the ACD says.

The ACD position statement recommends that to use sunscreen effectively, apply liberally – at least one teaspoon (5mL) to each body part – at least 20 minutes before going outdoors. It is important not to miss ears, hands, feet and the back of the neck. Reapply every two hours and use a water-resistant sunscreen when swimming and exercising.

A/Prof Baker says: “Sunscreens undergo extensive testing before they are approved to go on the market. Sometimes, side effects can occur, such as skin irritation or allergic reactions.

“These are most commonly a reaction to a chemical in the product (such as fragrances or preservatives) rather than the active sunscreen ingredient itself. There is no evidence to support concerns about the safety of sunscreens, including physical ‘nano-particle’ ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.”

However, no sunscreen will block 100% of UV radiation. Sunscreens should be used in conjunction with physical protection and should not be seen as a substitute for shade, hats and protective clothing.

The goal of sun protection is to prevent the skin from being exposed to excessive UV radiation. Over a lifetime, the effect of excessive UV exposure accumulates, contributing to ageing of the skin and increasing risk of skin cancer. Two types of UV radiation – UVA and UVB – both play a role in premature aging and can damage the skin’s DNA, leading to precancerous and cancerous changes.

The ACD position statement recommends that for effective sun protection of the skin and eyes, a combination of measures are needed – slip on clothing; slop on sunscreen; slap on a broad-brimmed hat; seek shade; and slide on sunglasses. It is also recommended to avoid being outside in the sun in the middle of the day, when UV levels are at their highest.

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