It’s a phrase that’s been drummed into us since childhood (or, more accurately, the moment we donned our very first legionnaire's hat): slip, slop, slap. Great advice in theory, but with all the conflicting advice out there re proper sun protection, it’s often easier said than done.
Here, we’ve busted some of the most common myths around sunscreen application, so you can rest assured you and your little urchins are covered.
Myth #1: you don’t sunscreen if it’s not sunny out
If you’re headed outside, sunscreen is a must - even if you can’t see the sun. You see, clouds filter out sunshine but only 20 per cent of all UV rays (the bad kind that accelerate ageing and cause cancer.) Which is why we are just as likely to burn on a cool, overcast day as a warm, sunny one. But during the colder months, this rule still applies – especially if you’re around snow as it can reflect up to 80 per cent of UV rays. Plus, the higher the altitude, the more UV exposure (two things to keep in mind if you’re planning a ski holiday this winter!)
Myth #2: the higher the SPF, the longer you’re protected
Fun fact: just because you’re using a high SPF, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to reapply regularly. The numbers (i.e. 30+) are simply based on how well the sunscreen will block UV rays from damaging your skin over a two-hour period. After this time its effectiveness tapers off, leaving you more susceptible to burning and sun damage. Bottom line? Always remember to reapply every couple of hours or after swimming, sweating or towel drying.
Myth #3: You only need a small amount of sunscreen if you’re applying it frequently
Many of us aren’t diligent with sticking to the two-hour rule or apply too little sunscreen, which means we’re only getting half of the protection stated on the label. As a general rule, the average-sized adult requires 35ml each time they lotion up. (That’s approximately 7 teaspoons: one for each arm, leg, front and back of the torso and the face, neck and ears.)
Babies and children are particularly at risk of sunburn due to their delicate skin. Because of this, it’s important to cover any exposed areas with sunscreen (including often overlooked places like the ears, tops of feet, backs of knees and hands) at least 30 minutes before exposure to ensure its fully absorbed.
Myth #4: Sunscreen is only necessary if you’ll be in the sun for a long time
The Cancer Council recommends that sun protection be used anytime the UV has been forecast to reach 3 or above – regardless of how much time you’re planning on spending outside. In NSW, this is generally all year round and sun damage can occur in as little as 11 minutes on a fine day.
It’s also worth noting that UV rays can reflect off surfaces such as sand, water and grass, meaning it is possible to get sunburnt while in the shade too. If you’re unsure of the local UV forecast, check out The Bureau of Meteorology or the Cancer Council’s SunSmart app.
Myth #5: Too much sunscreen can cause vitamin D deficiency
Most Aussies get a sufficient amount of vitamin D through completing everyday activities such as walking to the car or grocery store. Research also suggests that after 15 minutes or so in the sun our production of vitamin D stops. So, any prolonged exposure (especially without sunscreen) is merely increasing the risk of skin damage and cancer.