Sun protection 101

One of the most important things when being out and about is sun safety, especially in summer. Pharmacies are saturated with sunscreen options, which can be really overwhelming to the consumers and the staff recommending them. This article is going to break down the basics of sunscreen and how to explain these to your customers.

Let’s start with the SPF rating. SPF stands for ‘Sun Protection Factor’. A simple way to describe how an SPF value is given to a sunscreen is that it’s derived from the amount of time it takes to burn with sunscreen, divided it by the time it takes you to burn without a sunscreen. For example, if you burn in 300 minutes with a sunscreen on and 10 minutes without a sunscreen (300/10) the sunscreen will be an SPF 30. The same rule applies for SPF 50 sunscreen – the highest SPF available in Australia. Keep in mind, the SPF number is only a guide to a sunscreen’s protection. How long a person will take to burn really depends on their skin type, the time of day, time of year, amount of UV reflection and cloud coverage. In laboratory conditions, when used as directed, SPF 30+ sunscreen filters nearly 97% of UV radiation and SPF 50+ filters 98%. Both provide excellent protection from UVB rays, which are the sun’s rays that cause sunburn, if they are applied properly.


So how do you apply sunscreen properly?

Firstly, apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun, and again every two hours (even if the label says otherwise). Secondly, be generous with the amount of sunscreen you apply. The average sized adult should apply half a teaspoon of sunscreen (3ml) to each arm and the face, and a teaspoon (6ml) of sunscreen to each leg, front & back of the body. For an average-sized adult, approximately 35ml of sunscreen should do the trick. Many people use too little sunscreen and don’t re-apply every two hours, so they are receiving less than half the protection stated on the product label.


Handy sunscreen tips!

  • Always choose a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, that is water resistant and has broad spectrum coverage.
  • Always check the expiry date of the sunscreen!
  • Always keep in mind that sunscreen stored in conditions warmer than 30 degrees will lose its efficacy.
  • If you are allergic to a particular sunscreen, try another. Some sensitive brands or gels react differently to your skin. Consult the pharmacist if your customer has any concerns.
  • Use enough sunscreen! At least 35ml of sunscreen should be applied to the average adult.

It is important not to forget about the damage UVA rays can do – causing skin ageing and leading to skin cancers. SPF is mainly measured on UVB protection to the skin but advising customers about the Queensland Government’s five handy tips on how to protect yourself from the sun should ensure they are well protected:

  • Cover up with a shirt
  • Wear broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat
  • Seek shade
  • Slide on sunglasses

Remember to advise your customers to use sun protection every day.

Now you are equipped with some extra sun smart knowledge to share with your customers for a long, hot and safe summer!

By Melanie Gill, Pharmacy Practice Officer

Want more information or feel motivated to do a health promotion about sun safety in your pharmacy? More information can be found at:
Cancer Council Queensland
Queensland Government: Sun Safety & Skin Cancer

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