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Staying safe in the summer sunshine

Diane Leow

Thu Jan 24 2013

Fun at the beach

STOP yourself from smarting from the harsh Melbourne sun by being sun smart! Diane Leow tells you more about sun protection and reviews the best sunscreens on the market for students.

You’ve probably seen the massive ads beseeching the Australian public to be ‘SunSmart’ this summer. The tagline for these ads is pretty dramatic, showing just how easy it is to get skin cancer if you expose yourself to ultraviolet rays.  It might seem a little extreme. After all, most international students aren’t in the habit of applying sunscreen, especially on relatively cool days.

So why are Aussies so strict about sun protection? The Australian sun is one of the harshest in the world. So harsh in fact, that you’re at risk of ultraviolet rays throughout the entire Melburnian summer.

For a quick science brush-up, ultraviolet rays and infrared rays are present in sunbeams. Infrared rays can cause changes in blood vessels and cause premature skin ageing. UVB rays are responsible for turning skin red and may also affect your skin’s DNA, while overexposure to UVA rays may lead to skin cancer.

It doesn’t have to be blisteringly hot and cloudless for ultraviolet and infrared rays to do you damage. As SunSmart Manager Jen Makin explains, international students often make the mistake of assuming they can skip the sunscreen on cooler days.

“People coming from countries that are closer to the equator, where it’s quite warm all year round, are tempted to protect themselves from the sun only on the days when they can feel it,” she says.

“Whereas here in Melbourne, there will be days where it’s reasonably cool, but the UV levels are still very high.  They are the days when people don’t notice and go and get sun burnt.”

Ms Makin says the cricket and Australian Open are popular examples of places where people who aren’t used to the Melbourne sun feel the consequences of not using sun protection.  Even our very own Meld reporter, Yi Lei Goh, was badly sun burnt on her first visit to the Australian Open.

Using protection

So how can you protect yourself if you can’t predict the UV risk? Luckily, the Cancer Council has a free smartphone app called SunSmart that can do that for you – available on iTunes and Google Play.

Using this app, you can look up what times sun protection is required each day, as well as tips on how to apply sunscreen. If you often forget to apply your sunscreen, there is the option to set a reminder.

Along with checking the UV warnings for each day, the best thing you can do this summer is know your skin.

Ms Makin says your skin colour can impact just how badly you burn this summer. People with with light skin, light eyes and ginger hair are the most susceptible to sunburn, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is safe.

People with more pigmented skin, with darker skin, are less prone to sunburn, but they still need to be aware of the amount of time they’re spending out in the sun even if they’re not getting burnt.”

With that in mind, it’s important to protect yourself with a high SPF sunscreen. SPF is short for Sun Protection Factor, and the number that follows SPF is the multiple of times it would typically take for the onset of sunburn without sun protection. So SPF30 will protect you from the sun 30 times more than if you were wearing no sunscreen at all.

When buying sunscreen, bear in mind price doesn’t indicate quality. All sunscreens sold in Australia adhere to a standard set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPNSA).

Ms Makin’s tips for choosing the right one are simple – try until you find something you like and slather it on generously every time you go outside. As for the SPF rating, Ms Makin assures sun seekers that SPF30 is sufficient for every day use.

But sunscreen shouldn’t be your only form of sun protection. Wearing loose, thin clothing and hats, along with a pair of sunglasses and possibly even a parasol are vital if you want to be entirely safe in the Australian sun. And don’t, whatever you do, try to get a tan this summer.

“The message to everyone regardless of where they come from is to love the skin that you’re in. Don’t try to change your skin colour by tanning or whitening.”

So, with so many sunscreen products on the market, we thought we’d help you out and share our favourite brands to suit any budget this summer.

1. Avene High Protection Sunscreen Cream, SPF 30+, $28

The Avene High Protection Sunscreen Cream is great for sensitive skin and can be used on the face or body. It has a non-greasy formula and is very slightly tinted, giving you that bronzed goddess look without risking a tan. Best of all, it doesn’t leave a sticky layer, even hours after application – so you know this one’s a keeper.

2. Coles Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30+, $3.29

The Coles Sunscreen Lotion is suitable for everyday use and it’s ridiculously affordable too. Its texture is a little thick and gluggy, and it leaves a slightly greasy film upon application. But for less than the price of a cup of coffee, its value is hard to beat. It does the job just as well as the pricey creams, so slather it on everywhere and prevent yourself from getting roasted!

3. Banana Boat Sport Dry Touch SPF 30+, $17

It’s hard to miss Banana Boat’s iconic name and brightly coloured packaging. Their sunscreens are generally pretty effective, but the Sport Dry Touch is really lightweight and not greasy at all. In fact, you won’t  feel a thing after application. It’s also waterproof, so if you’re intending on going to the beach, it’s worth bringing this bottle with you.

4. Natio Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30+, $14

Natio prides itself on being 100% Australian, and its sunscreen formula is also really lightweight, so you don’t have to worry about heading out and feeling really sticky while combating the heat! At $13.95, it’s slightly pricier than other products on this list. But did we mention it smells great? It’s also moisture-rich, water proof and made from all natural ingredients, which makes it better for your skin, especially if you suffer from an oily complexion.

5. Nivea Sun Light Feel Daily Face Veil, SPF 30+, $11

For something ultra-portable, the Nivea Sun Light Feel Face Veil comes in 50ml bottles – great for bags already stuffed with a laptop, books and heaps of stationery. Its price tag won’t make you wince, plus it comes in a really sturdy bottle that won’t leak. This is a great option for those who are always on-the-go, and the one-quarter moisturiser is perfect for dry skin.

6. Banana Boat Pure Aloe Vera Gel, $12

While this isn’t a product that protects you from the sun, it does help soothe sun burnt and irritated skin. If your skin turns red and starts peeling, drink lots of water and put on copious amounts of a soothing lotion (like the aloe vera gel above), and your skin should return to normal in a few days.

Do you have any tips to share on protecting yourself against the sun? Share in the comments box below!