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Know your suncreen

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Sunscreens are available in different formats, make sure you know the benefits of each type, writes Eloise Tombs*

In the 1980s the Slip Slop Slap (slip on shirt, slop on some sunscreen and Slap on a hat) campaign is widely credited as playing a key role in the dramatic shift in sun protection attitudes and behaviour over the past two decades. In 2007, the slogan was updated to Slip Slop Slap Seek Slide to reflect the importance of seeking shade and sliding on wrap- around sunglasses to prevent sun damage to the eyes.

Sun damage

On a summer’s day in Australia, sunburn can occur in as little as 15 minutes. All types of sunburn, whether serious or mild, can cause permanent and irreversible skin damage. This could lay the groundwork for skin cancers to develop. Further, sunburn only increases your risk of skin cancer. More than 2,000 Australians die from skin cancer each year. Males are more likely to get sunburnt than females, because they spend more time outside during peak UV times and are less likely to use sun protection.

Ultra violet and how it damages the skin

The three types of UV radiation (based on wavelength) are UVA, UVB and UVC. The earth’s atmosphere absorbs nearly all of UVC radiation (the most dangerous type) before it reaches the ground. But UVA and UVB radiation are both involved in sunburn, but skin reacts differently to each type of radiation:

  • UVA – penetrates into the deeper skin layers and damages the sites where new skin cells are generated. Too much UVA radiation leads to roughening, dryness, blotchiness, wrinkling and sagging of the skin. High doses of UVA radiation can also cause sunburn, damage to genes in skin cells and skin cancer.
  • UVB – is even more dangerous than UVA radiation, causing tanning, burning, ageing, skin damage and significantly promoting the development of skin cancer. It affects the surface skin layer. The skin responds by releasing chemicals that dilate blood vessels. This causes fluid leakage and inflammation – better known as sunburn.


The TGA tests all sunscreens above SPF 4 and they must meet the standards of the Australian Regulatory Guidelines for Sunscreens, including the use of quality materials and manufacturing practices as well as compliance standards.

Sunscreen varieties available include:

SPF 50 – protects 96% of your skin against harmful UV rays

SPF 15% – protects 93% of your skin against harmful UV rays

Broad spectrum – protects against both UVA and UVB rays

Sport- are made with an enduring formula to last longer in both the water and from sweat keeping you protected for longer.

Sensitive/kids – contain fewer chemicals and fragrances that are known to cause rashes and skin irritation.

Water resistant – are made with a water-resistant enduring formula

Which format to recommend

  • Sticks – Sunscreen sticks, such as zinc oxide sunscreen sticks, are useful for quick application, particularly around the face and eyes.
  • Creams – Cream sunscreens often contain moisture-rich qualities making them ideal for dry skin
  • Lotions – While lotions might take longer to rub-in and absorb into the skin, they are often preferred for application on large parts of the body that need more coverage. Lotion sunscreens also tend to be less greasy compared to creams.
  • Gel – Although less common, gel sunscreen works best in hairy areas, making them good options for men.
  • Spray – Popular among parents because they’re easy to apply on children, spray sunscreens are a convenient option found in both sport sunscreen and regular sunscreen products. Because it’s difficult to determine how thorough you’re applying a spray sunscreen, apply a liberal and even coating.

We can help our customers by staying up to date on the latest research, sunscreen products and of course correct application techniques but most importantly, educating our customers that burning can happen all year round.

*Eloise is a workplace/trainer assessor for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia (Qld branch).

This article first appeared in the April issue of PS.

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