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The simple facts about sunscreen

Author: The Simple Bit

Category: Science

We all get that we have to wear sunscreen when we’re out in the sun. But how much? And how often? What about in the car? And can I get away with these budgie smugglers? This little chat might help you out this sunburn season.

The simple bits:

  • The Cancer Council recommend using 30+ broad spectrum sunscreen
  • No, a tan doesn’t protect you from the sun
  • Reapply frequently, like every two hours, or more often if you’re swimming or sweating heaps
  • Always use other sun protection with sunscreen (a shirt, a hat, sunnies, shade)
  • Yes, you can get burnt through glass

Sunscreen has been a part of all of our summers forever. But how many of us put it on right? Or put on enough? Or really get how it works? Turns out there’s a fine line between sun smart and sun dumb. Let’s clear it up.


I’m going out into the sun, so I’ve got myself some good old 15+ and I’m ready to ro..

Hold up, hold up. Cancer Council recommend at least 30+, which filters out most harmful UVA (which ages the skin) but more importantly UVB (which can cause sunburn and skin cancer). That’s what’s known as ‘broad spectrum’. So your old tube of 15+ isn’t going to cut it.


Nah I’m good. I’ve already got a tan so I don’t need sunscre..

STRONG NOPE. While a base level tan may provide you with an SPF of about 3, it’s WAAAAY too insignificant to prevent any further damage. 3 is a long way from 30+.


Ok cool. I’ve squirted a little here and there. That’s enough.

Whoa whoa. You need at least 5 ml, or a teaspoon for each arm, each leg, your back, your front and your face. And don’t forget your neck and ears. So that’s 35 ml or about seven teaspoons. All rubbed in thoroughly, 20 minutes BEFORE you go out into the sun.


Ok, seven teaspoons all rubbed in. I’m good for like four hours now, right?

Wrong. Cancer Council recommends reapplying frequently, at least every two hours if you’re going out in the sun. And if you’re swimming or sweating heavily, think about reapplying even more frequently.


Got it. Sunscreen on, now I’ll just strip down to my smugglers and…

Wait up there, Tony Abbott. Cancer Council always recommends sunscreen be used with other sun protection measures. Like finding some shade, wearing sunnies, a hat and shirt. And perhaps something more modest down south, in your case.


Fine, fine. I’m just going to stay in the car where there’s no way I can get burn….

You totally can. Cancer Council says that untinted glass, like most car windows, reduces UV radiation, but it doesn’t block it completely. So yeah, still be careful. Long road trips on sunny days or driving around with all the windows down sounds cool and all, but remember the sunscreen. 


I hear sunscreen is killing the oceans though.

Some research has shown that there is a chemical in a lot of sunscreens that may be harmful to juvenile corals. The ingredient to look for is Oxybenzone, or BP-3. But there are plenty of sunscreens out there that don’t contain Oxybenzone. Look on the label – it’ll usually say ‘reef safe’ or ‘fish safe’. So there’s no excuse not to sunscreen up.


But hold up, doesn’t sunscreen have dangerous nanoparticles in it?

Nanoparticles, yes. Dangerous, not according to the Cancer Council. While they’re constantly reviewing research, for now there is no proof that nanoparticles can penetrate the skin and pose a danger. On the flipside, long-term regular sunscreen use can help prevent melanoma and squamous cell carcinomas (a common non-melanoma skin cancer).


Ok. Fine. Thanks.

No worries.


For more information about sun safety, head to The Cancer Council for the whole rundown.