NEW SPF50+ labelled sunscreens will be available on Australian shelves this summer.
Ballarat MP Catherine King championed the change in Melbourne yesterday.
“The change brings Australia into line with the United States, some European countries and New Zealand that already allow SPF50+ labelling,” Ms King said.
However, a doctor at the Australian Skin Face Body clinic in Ballarat, Dr Melinda Dalman said Australians shouldn’t be tricked by the SPF50+ label into thinking they’re getting significantly higher protection from the sun.
“This does not mean our sunscreens are getting better. SPF50+ sunscreens have always been available on Australian shelves, but haven’t been allowed to be marketed that way,” Dr Dalman said.
“Our sunscreens are not inferior to those of America or New Zealand, who have had SPF50+ sunscreens on their shelves for years. There are other factors at play when using sunscreen, in particular how you apply and reapply, how long before sun exposure you apply, if you sweat or go in water and if you rub it off with your towel.
“They are all going to limit how well your sunscreen works. We have resisted allowing sunscreens to be labelled SPF50+ because of the false sense security it sends out.”
But what does SPF50+ actually mean?
The sun protection factor (SPF) ratings indicate the amount of time you could spend unprotected in the sun without burning, assuming the UV rating was constant.
In other words, if you apply a SPF30+ sunscreen, theoretically it should take 30 times as long to get slightly sunburnt than if you had no sunscreen on.
Dr Dalman advised that when shopping for sunscreen there were two things to look for.
“A broad spectrum sunscreen is better than one with just SPF, because it protects against UVB and UVA radiation, which we now know contributes to the development of skin cancer. All SPF30+ and SPF50+ sunscreens have to be broad spectrum in Australia, so you can be confident when choosing them.
“The other thing you should look for in the ingredients is zinc oxide. It creates a physical barrier that stops the sun getting in. If a sunscreen has 20 per cent of zinc oxide, it’s a really good sunscreen.”
Dr Dalman also noted that SPF50+ sunscreen was not always needed.
“If I was headed to the beach I would definitely wear a SPF50+ sunscreen, but when going to work a SPF30+ sunscreen is just fine,” she said.
“Its important to seek sun to a degree to get enough vitamin D intake.”
For sun-protection advice, Dr Dalman said nothing beat the popular ‘slip, slop, slap’ campaign from the 1980s: slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat.
“I still go by the old slip, slop, slap advice, but add slide on your sunglasses and seek shade,” she said.