When I was a kid growing up in the ’70s, sunscreen was something that was marketed more as something that could help you get a tan while at the beach.
If you’re of my vintage and ever holidayed on the Gold Coast during that era you would remember the billboard that showed a dog on the beach – and that dog was using its teeth to pull down the pants of a toddler to show a white bottom, emphasising the tanned rest of said toddler’s body.
The billboard was advertising a sunscreen product but it was not promoting a sun-safe message. Far from it.
This was a time well before the “no hat, no play” rule that’s now firmly in place in schools. I honestly can’t ever remember having a hat with me at school. I didn’t even wear shoes so I guess there was no way a hat was even going to make it into my “port”, let alone get on to my head.
Sunscreen was not something I applied every day but it was something that my mother had us embrace on our annual beach holidays.
Unlike every other kid on that beach we were not allowed near the water until our sunscreen was applied, zinc across the nose and face, and a stingy gel sunscreen everywhere else. Oh and she had us wearing t-shirts in the water over our togs – long before the idea of a rash vest was thought of.
Can you imagine how uncool I felt?
Now, of course, I’m incredibly grateful. Grateful because without that ritual instilled in me from a young age, I would not have embraced the sunscreen habit in my teenage and early adult years. And now I definitely attribute that habit of protecting my skin to my skin looking as it does today.
Thankfully, sunscreens have come a long way since my childhood.
They are more effective and there are many options available to suit your skin and your lifestyle.
How to choose a sunscreen
1. Day-to-day sun exposure differs for each person. Think about your regular days and how much you are out in the sun. If you you are only outside for short times, then a combination of sunscreen in your makeup and a light moisturising sunscreen will keep you protected.
2. If you spend time outdoors, for work or playing sport/exercising, then you’ll need to look for a hard-working sunscreen that goes the distance and offers maximum protection.
3. For those who live at the beach or in their pool each summer, then invest in a supply of sunscreen that is easy to apply (and re-apply), offers maximum protection and is water resistant.
4. Sunscreens fall into two categories – physical or chemical sunscreens. The physical sunscreens (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) work by reflecting UV rays off the skin; the chemical sunscreens work by absorbing and “mopping up” UV rays. Sunscreens may also use a combination of both types in the one product. If using a chemical sunscreen, it should go on the skin first (before moisturisers and makeup). If using a physical, you can moisturise then apply and then apply your makeup.
5. What you choose will come down to your skin and your personal preference as to what you put on your skin in terms of chemicals/products. The skin on my face and chest actually reacts to prolonged use of zinc oxide, so if I use a physical sunscreen it’s only on the rest of my body. The only exception to this zinc thing has been Invisible Zinc ESP Moisturiser. Strangely, I rarely have a problem with chemical sunscreens. I know others do have reactions and others may also be concerned about the effects of certain chemicals – not just on their skin but their overall health. I suggest you do your own research to make up your mind which way you go.
6. Just do it. Find something that works for you and your lifestyle and always wear a sunscreen.
5 to try
These five have been recently sent to me to trial – all except the Dermalogica product are new to the market. This is the time of year that you will see new sunscreens released. It’s also a good time to go through your sunscreen supply at home and consider throwing out any bottles or tubes that have not been stored in a cool place as they may no longer be effective. I err on the side of caution and throw out last year’s opened bottles and start a fresh for the summer pool/beach season.
1. Jurlique Sun Specialist SPF40 High Protection Cream PA+++ $50: This is a chemical sunscreen that can be used on the face and body and features an antioxidant complex as well as moisturising Inca Inchi oil and shea butter. It has a beautiful, light fragrance and would make a great everyday sunscreen option for hands, arms, chest and face. I’d probably opt for a less expensive product for the rest of my body or for sport or beach activity.
2. Dermalogica Ultra Sensitive Tint SPF30 $52: This is a physical sunscreen (active ingredient is titanium dioxide) formulated specifically for the face and for those of us who have sensitive skin. The tint comes from natural iron oxides and calming ingredients help sooth irritated or red skin. This is a great one to use on your face every day over a moisturiser. If using to protect your face at the beach or in the pool, re-apply after swimming.
3. Eco Tan Natural Coconut Sunscreen SPF30 $29.95: The active ingredient is zinc oxide (physical sunscreen) so I haven’t tried this on my face but just love it on my arms and hands because of the beautiful coconut fragrance. There isn’t a full ingredients’ list included on the product or on the website but the product is labelled cruelty free. Eco Tan do fabulous faux tanning products (my favourite is the Winter Skin gradual tan). This product has a natural skin tone colour to it that easily blends into your skin. The coconut and aloe vera keep skin moisturised.
4. NIVEA Sun Ultra Sport Protect Cooling SPF50+ $17.99: This chemical sunscreen and the next one are very similar in that they are easy to apply from any angle thanks to the 360 degree spray valve and they both provide moisturising qualities as well as sun protection. They’re also available in a non-aerosol spray if that’s your preference. This particular product is cooling to the skin and is a sweat-resistant formula so perfect for active people. It’s non-greasy and absorbs fast. It gives you four hours of water resistance.
5. NIVEA Sun Ultra Beach Protect SPF50+ $17.99: This chemical sunscreen has been specifically developed to offer extra protection – and and out of the water. It’s a long-lasting SPF50+, is non-greasy and re-application is easy thanks to the spray.
SunSmart facts (from SunSmart Victoria)
What’s the difference between SPF50 and SPF30?
The higher a sunscreen’s sun protection factor, or SPF, the more UVB radiation it filters. Sunscreens labelled broad-spectrum are also protective against UVA radiation. Properly applied, SPF30 sunscreens filter out 96.7% of UVB radiation, while SPF50 filters out 98%. Despite an increase in protection level, SPF50+ sunscreen must continue to be reapplied every two hours to maintain the optimum level of protection, and used in conjunction with other sun protection (clothing, hats, shade, and sunglasses).
Do I need sunscreen if I wear SPF cosmetics?
Foundation and moisturiser that contains sunscreen is fine if you are outside for a short time, for example a quick trip to the shops or hanging the washing. But if you know you are going to be in the sun for longer, apply sunscreen in addition to your make-up, and reapply the sunscreen every two hours. Be aware that most cosmetics offer less protection than the SPF30 recommended.
Why do I need sunscreen if I use fake tan?
Fake tanning lotion does not improve your skin’s ability to protect itself from the sun, so you will still need to protect yourself with a combination of the five sun protection measures when ultraviolet (UV) radiation is at damaging levels. Some fake tans have sunscreen in them. As with other sunscreens, these provide protection for about two hours after application. Protection does not last for the length of the tan.
Don’t I only need sunscreen if I’m planning to go to the beach or be outside all day?
In Australia, we can be exposed to high levels of UV radiation during all sorts of daily activities, such as working outdoors, gardening, running, walking the dog or just having a picnic. This sun exposure adds up over time, and increases our risk of skin cancer. That’s why it’s important to know the sun protection times for each day and to use the five steps of sun protection, including sunscreen, when the UV levels are 3 or higher. This free app will determine the UV levels in your area each day and help you work out how much sunscreen you need to apply depending on what you’re wearing.
Won’t I become vitamin D deficient if I use sunscreen all the time?
Sensible sun protection does not put people at risk of vitamin D deficiency. From September to April, when the UV levels are 3 or higher, most people get enough vitamin D through normal day-to-day activities, even while using sunscreen. During summer, a few minutes of sun exposure mid-morning or mid-afternoon to the face, arms, hands or equivalent areas will help with vitamin D levels. Be extra cautious in the middle of the day when UV levels are most intense. People with naturally very dark skin may need more sun exposure.
So tell me … what’s your favourite sunscreen/s? Any tips to share?