Warning on incorrect sunscreen use

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Public guidelines for sun protection have been updated as stakeholders warn that Australians are using sunscreen as a “suit of armour”

The Australasian College of Dermatologists and Cancer Council updated the guidelines following concerns that many Australians only use sunscreen to protect their skin.

By not using clothing, a broad-brimmed hat, shade, sunglasses and sunscreen correctly when the ultraviolet index reaches three or above, they are putting themselves at risk, the organisations say.

“There is a lack of understanding about the proper use of sunscreen and an over reliance on this as the principal form of sun protection,” says Dr Andrew Miller, president of the ACD.

“To be properly protected from UV, all five forms of sun protection should be used: slip on clothing, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on sunglasses.”

Heather Walker, chair of Cancer Council Australia’s National Skin Cancer Committee, said that recent research shows 85% of people do not apply sunscreen correctly.

“Sunscreen is not a suit of armour, so it is important to never rely on just sunscreen to protect the skin,” she says.

“Cancer Council recommend using a water resistant, broad spectrum, SPF 30+ or higher sunscreen along with other forms of sun protection.”

The guidelines for infant sun protection have also been highlighted. It is recommended that babies under 12 months are kept away from direct sunlight when UV levels reach three or above.

If spending longer periods of time outdoors during low UV periods, parents should ensure their baby is wrapped or dressed in clothing that covers as much skin as possible, wears a hat and is kept in the shade.

Sunscreen is not generally recommended for babies under six months due to the sensitivity of infant skin.

The groups also offered advice on correct use of sunscreen:

  • Apply at least 20 minutes before going outside.
  • Use an adequate amount – at least one teaspoon for each arm and leg, front and back of torso and face (including neck and ears). This is a total of seven teaspoons (at least 35 ml of sunscreen) for an adult’s full body application.
  • Reapply after swimming, sweating or towel drying, and/or every two hours regardless of what the label says.

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