Archive | October, 2012

What you need to know about sunscreen

5 Oct



The other day, I wrote an article for the Natural Therapy Pages about sunscreen safety. Given my pale skin and penchant for living in Australia, which has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, I assumed I’d be an expert on sunscreens.

Since I was a kid, the ‘slip slop slap’ message (slip on a t-shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat) has become somewhat of a national mantra. We’re told to keep out of the sun and not even let a little light touch our skin.

But low and behold, it turns out not all sunscreens are created equal. And even more surprising, experts are now saying we need to expose our skin to the sun – sans sunscreen – every day for good health.

So, here’s the lowdown on sunscreen…

We don’t need to wear sunscreen all the time

I’m still getting used to this one. Recently my naturopath discovered that, like around 70 per cent of the population, I have a Vitamin D deficiency. Most people would think this odd given our year-round sunshine. Could our sun aversion be to blame?

The experts think so. Melbourne pathology director Ken Sikaris has said that our ‘sun-consciousness’ has caused many of us to avoid healthy doses of sunshine.

Like my naturopath, Sikaris’ prescription is to get around 10 minutes of sun exposure each day without protection. This should be in the morning or late afternoon, to avoid the harsh midday UV rays.

Not all sunscreens are created equal

When picking a sunscreen, I tend to go for the prettiest bottle at the cheapest price. I assumed all sunscreens contain chemicals and they can’t be that bad for us if they’re on the chemist shelves, right?


Currently, there are two types of sunscreen available in Australia – chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens. In a nutshell, chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays, while physical sunscreens (which include zinc) create a barrier to block them.

A chemical cocktail

It’s chemical sunscreens that have the health experts worried. They fear the chemical cocktail are absorbed into the blood stream and can disturb hormones.

Fellow health blogger Sarah Wilson recommends steering clear of sunscreens that contain dioxybenzone and oxybenzone, as these are apparently “two of the most powerful free radical generators” out there. She also advises avoiding octyl methoxycinnamate and Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). You can read more here.

The best sunscreen

When choosing a sunscreen, after you’ve ensured it doesn’t include the chemicals mentioned above, look for one that provides adequate protection such as SPF 20 or 30. Also check how long it lasts – i.e. whether it’s 4 hours water resistant, or only 2. When you’re frolicking in the waves, you want to be sure your sunscreen is going to last.

Me? I now use Invisible Zinc, because it has a mineral formulation with no hidden nasties. It’s fairly thick and hard to spread, but I do feel better protected than when I wear a watery chemical cream.

WOTNOT, Soleo and Banana Boat also come highly recommended from sunscreen experts.

So there you go! A quick run-down to choosing and using sunscreen. Now, I’m off to the beach (with my Invisible Zinc on, of course!)

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