How effective is suncreen in reducing melanoma risk?

Sunscreen is a vital sun safety tool. Wearing sunscreen should be as automatic as wearing a seatbelt – both are potential life savers. Studies have shown regular sunscreen use, particularly during the formative years, can reduce melanoma risk by 40% (2018 study from The University of Sydney, Cancer Council QLD and The University of Melbourne). There is evidence to show that daily use of sunscreen can prevent most types of skin cancer including melanoma and non melanoma skin cancers, and further can reduce the number of moles acquired in early life, which is a risk marker for melanoma.

Don’t forget that sunscreen is just one of the five ways to be sun safe. We also advise you seek shade, and wear protective clothing, a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

Which sunscreen is the best?

We advise using the highest possible SPF sunscreen (currently SPF50+ in Australia) with broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection. The sunscreen you use is a personal choice. The best one for you is the one that feels good for you and that you enjoy using every day. Try a few different types and find one that suits you.

Are sunscreens safe?

Australia has strict regulations covering sunscreens, so everyone can be rest assured sunscreens sold in Australia are safe to use. They are all regulated through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

What about nanoparticles in sunscreen?

Current research shows nanoparticles in sunscreen do not pose a risk and remain on the surface of the skin. They are in a lot of sunscreen. They might only become problematic if you have open skin wounds or dermatitis.

What are the different types of sunscreens?

Sunscreens work differently depending on their type. Despite the different ways they work, all sunscreens sold in Australia are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

  • Some sunscreens absorb the UV radiation – typically those using avobenzone and benzophenone.
  • Others deflect the radiation – these are known as physical sunscreens and use natural, mineral filters like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are said to be less irritative than the chemical ones.
  • Most sunscreens will contain a mixture of both, all of which are safe to use.
  • If you use a spray sunscreen – only use it for cooler parts of the day and apply an even, generous coating and layer applications. Spray sunscreen isn’t as effective as physical blockers at reflecting light.

How common are allergies to sunscreen?

Allergies to sunscreen are very rare, usually it is more an irritation that an allergy. We recommend people opt for the many sunscreens available for sensitive skin, and find one that works for them. Often the mineral sunscreens are less irritating.

At what age should you start using sunscreen?

For newborn babies, rather than using sunscreen we advise keeping them in the shade until 6 months of age. For older babies and toddlers we advise using mineral sunscreens. For teenagers, sun safety including sunscreen is crticial as UV exposure leading to sunburn in this age group can greatly increase risk of melanoma later in life.

What is SPF and what SPF should I use?

We advise using the highest possible SPF sunscreen (currently SPF50+ in Australia) with broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection. SPF is the ‘Sun Protection Factor’ against UVB which causes most damage. For eg, SPF 50 will provide 50 times the amount of time without sun damage, than if you weren’t using any sunscreen.

How much sunscreen should I apply?

Most Australians don’t apply enough sunscreen. Slapping it on before you head out for the day simply is not enough. Any area of skin that is going to be exposed needs to be covered with sunscreen. As a guide, you need a shot glass full of sunscreen to cover your whole body and face. Another guide is the ‘7 teaspoon’ rule –one teaspoon for each limb, one teaspoon each for your front and back of your torso, and half a teaspoon each for your face and neck. It is also important to re-apply sunscreen regularly – about every 2 hours, or more frequently if you’ve been swimming or exercising and sweating.

What about sunscreen use and Vitamin D levels?

UVB from the sun is a key factor for Vitamin D synthesis in the skin. Dietary sources and supplementation can also provide Vitamin D to the body. In Australia, incidental sun exposure, particularly in the summer months, is thought to be enough to support adequate vitamin D synthesis. Do not deliberately expose yourself to the sun for the purposes of Vitamin D supplementation. Vitamin D is essential for musculoskeletal health, however, it can be supplemented. We know that excess sun significantly increases your risk of melanoma, which kills. If you are concerned about your Vitamin D status, please see your GP to have this checked and treated accordingly.