Author: Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer; Copy Editor: Clare Morrison; Chief Editor: Dr Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, October 2013. About Melanoma is sponsored by the New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated.
Using sunscreens helps to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. However, wearing sunscreen does not mean you can stay out in the sun all day long and not get sun-burned. Don’t let sunscreen give you a false sense of security. You still need to cover up with clothes and stay out of the sun during peak sunshine hours in the day.
It’s not practical to hide all parts of your body with clothing, so sunscreen is perfect protection for your bare bits. But what sunscreen should you use? It can be pretty confusing with so many different bottles on the shelves covered in labels stating various claims and with ingredient panels with a list of bizarre chemical names. Here are a few pointers to help you decide which sunscreen to use:
Choose one that has broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
Choose one that has a sun protection factor (SPF) rating of at least 50.
Choose one that has the ingredients titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as these block UVA rays better (these can make the sunscreen opaque and white in colour).
And if you can remember the names, choose one that contains octocrylene, bemotrizinol or bisoctrizole, as these don’t break down so quickly in the sun.
The main thing is to choose a sunscreen that meets the first two points above.
For sunscreen to do its job properly you need to:
Use enough of it! It takes about 6 teaspoons of lotion to cover the bare bits of the body of an average sized adult person. So that’s about 1 teaspoon per arm and hand, leg and foot, and face and neck.
Slap it on at least 20–30 minutes before going outside in the sun. It’s got to get into your skin before it can start working for you.
Slap it on some more, especially right after swimming, after you’ve sweat a lot, or if it’s been rubbed off by clothes or towel. Do this even if the sunscreen claims to be “water-resistant”.
And slap it on at least every 2 hours if you are staying out in the sun for longer.