Sunscreen – Uncovering The Facts!


About 4 billion dollars a year are spent on sunscreens. And yet, there is a lot of confusion about the use of sunscreen and misinformation about sunscreen ingredients.

A 2017 survey in Australia found that only 55% of Australian adults acknowledge that it is safe to use sunscreen every day. Seventeen percent of respondents believed that sunscreens contained ingredients that are harmful and 20% believed that using sunscreen will impair the absorption of Vitamin D.

More people are becoming more aware of the dangers of exposure to the sun and its links to cancer and premature ageing.

But are most people getting protection from the sun with their sunscreen products, and are they safe? It’s time to bust these myths and get the facts right.


Sun exposure accounts for ninety percent of the visual signs of ageing.

There are three forms of identifiable rays. They are UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC rays are prevented from reaching earth by the ozone layer. That is one reason why the ozone layer is so important. UVB rays are medium rays. They penetrate the ozone layer and bounce off the surface of the skin. They burn the skin and cause skin cancer. UVA rays are the longest rays. They also penetrate the ozone layer. Then they penetrate the surface of the skin and destroy collagen and elastin underneath the skin’s surface. These are the rays that cause wrinkles, sagging and ageing.

Needless to say, sun protection is necessary to not only prevent skin ageing but also to prevent skin cancer.


The biggest problem when it comes to sunscreen is not the sunscreen itself but the way it is applied. 85% of people get this wrong.

The recommendation by the US Food and Drug Administration on the application of sunscreen is to:

  1. Apply 15 minutes before you go outside
  2. Approximately 35mL or more of sunscreen is needed to cover from head to toe (avoid eyes and mouth) for an average adult. One teaspoon (or 5mL) is recommended for each limb (hands and legs), front of body, back and head.
  3. Reapply at least every 2 hours, more often if you are swimming or perspiring

Some other sun-smart tips include:

  • Avoid the hot sun between 10am to 2pm
  • Besides sunscreen, also wear sun-protective clothing such as long-sleeve shirts, hats and sunglasses or seek a shady place


It is important when looking for sunscreen products, to choose those that provide protection against UVA and UVB rays. It is also recommended to apply one with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least SPF30 on a daily basis.

There are two broad types of sunscreen ingredients:

  1. Physical
  2. Chemical

Physical sunscreen ingredients include Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. These ingredients sit on the surface of the skin and form a barrier which reflect UV radiation. They are less irritating to sensitive skin compared to chemical ingredients and are the choice of ingredients for babies and children.

Chemical sunscreen ingredients such as methoxycinnamate, avobenzone and octocrylene work by absorbing UV light before they can cause damage to the deeper layers of the skin. In the process, these chemical ingredients may degrade in the UV light. Hence, it is important to note the expiry date of sunscreens and use according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Most brands nowadays contain chemical sunscreen ingredients because they are easier to apply compared to the physical sunscreens, which usually appear whitish and thick. But chemical sunscreens may be problematic for those with sensitive skin.

Choosing the right sunscreen involves finding one that:

  1. Is not irritating to your skin, especially if you have sensitive skin
  2. Has broad spectrum cover against UVA and UVB
  3. Can be comfortably applied in the recommended amounts

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