CONSUMER HEALTH: Rising rates of cancer means protecting your skin from the sun is critically important – but which is the best product for you?
WITH THE summer holidays and the lure of foreign destinations fast approaching – consumers’ attention is turning once more to which suncream to purchase.
Given that the rate of skin cancer has almost doubled in Ireland over the past 10 years, protecting your skin, and particularly your children’s, is critically important. But before you make that purchase, what should you know?
How long can you keep suncreams for?
Every year, most households discuss whether or not to use last year’s suncream, or to throw it out and buy a new one. Given that it is not the cheapest of products, many opt for holding onto last year’s bottle, but is this really the wisest option?
For Dr Abdullah Moktar, consultant dermatologist with the Beacon Dermatology Clinic, if the product has been open for more than one year, “then there could be a bit of oxidation, it won’t be standard and you can’t rely on it”.
Dr Rosemary Coleman, consultant dermatologist with the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin advises people to go by the sell-by dates on the bottle. In general, these tend to have a duration of about 12 months.
How much should you use each time?
When it comes to keeping suncreams, both dermatologists agree that really, there shouldn’t be any suncream left if you’re using it appropriately.
“If you’re using proper quantities, you shouldn’t have much left,” says Coleman, while Moktar agrees that “people use insufficient amounts”.
“You should apply liberally to all sun-exposed areas,” he advises. In general, you need at least 30ml to cover an adult’s total body, with a teaspoon for your face given as a rough guide.
“Overuse rather than underuse it,” cautions Coleman, adding: “Be generous with sunscreen. Don’t put on a tiny amount – SPF effectiveness is based on adequate application.”
Do you need both UVA/UVB protection?
The aim of suncream is to protect your skin from ultraviolet light, of which there are two – UVA and UVB. According to Moktar, UVA causes skin ageing and skin cancer, while UVB causes acute sunburn and skin cancer. “You need to have protection from both,” he says.
SPF stands for “sun protection factor” and refers to UVB radiation. In line with new EU regulations, as well as the SPF number indicated on labels, the number is now also graded from low to very high protection. So, suncreams with SPFs of between 6-14 are labelled as offering “low protection”, while those between 30-50 give “high protection”.
There have also been changes to how UVA cover is indicated. In addition to the star rating – one star offers “minimum” UVA protection, while five stars provides “ultra” cover – you will also see the letters UVA in a circular shape on certain labels, indicating that it contains the EU-recommended amount of UVA protection compared to SPF.
Remember, you want to choose a sunscreen which offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays