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Chemicals offer ray of hope to sun worshippers

FACING FACTS: Joe O'Daly, 7, applies a thick smear of zinc cream which though unpleasant is the most effective block to damaging ultraviolet light.

FACING FACTS: Joe O'Daly, 7, applies a thick smear of zinc cream which though unpleasant is the most effective block to damaging ultraviolet light. Photo: Colleen Petch

Parents usually try to keep their children's exposure to chemicals at an absolute minimum, but when it comes to sunscreen, the more chemicals the better, according to the University of Canberra's head of pharmacy, Dr Greg Kyle.

Conversely, when it comes to sunburn remedies, the old-fashioned methods of cold tea and vinegar are just as effective as over-the-counter remedies.

Dr Kyle said parents were often wary of using products on their children's skin which contained lengthy lists of chemical ingredients when in fact, sunscreens with complex chemical combinations were ''usually more effective than the so-called natural options.''

Sunscreens worked by absorbing ultraviolet light before it penetrated the skin.

''So a mix of ingredient means a mix of chemical absorbers and usually a more effective product,'' Dr Kyle said.

''I think people can be scared about a long list of chemicals on a label, but we need to remember the products are regulated and tested, and even the natural products still contain chemicals.''

He added: ''I would definitely go for chemical exposure through sunscreen than sun exposure which can have devastating long-term effects.''

While it would be an unpleasant, as well as impractical method of sun protection, Dr Kyle said the most effective topical application was zinc oxide, which provides a physical block to ultraviolet light in much the same way clothing does.

''Unfortunately, it's not likely people are going to coat their entire bodies in zinc before heading out in the sun.''

A slathering over sun-prone noses and cheeks was the next best option.

Like all health professionals, Dr Kyle said sunscreen could only do so much, and the safest option for sun exposure is to wear clothing or swim rashies, a hat, to stay in the shade and avoid sun exposure between 11am and 3pm.

Meanwhile, new labelling laws introduced last month will allow Australian sunscreens to display a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 50+ rather than the previous maximum rating of 30-plus.

The new standard, introduced to recognise the developments made in sunscreen technology over recent years, brings Australia in line with the likes of New Zealand and is being introduced to shop shelves already.

But Dr Kyle said a SPF 50 did not make a person impervious to burning.

While an SPF 30 sunscreen will block out 96.7 per cent of UV, the new SPF 50 blocks out 98 per cent of UV.

''So really, the incremental increase is not that great and we still need to be careful in the sun, even when using sunscreen.''

Once skin was burnt, the damage was done.

But pain management could be assisted by cold compresses of tea or vinegar.

''If you sustain a sunburn, the best thing is to take the heat out of the skin through a long, cold shower,'' he said.

''Then the old-fashioned remedies of cold tea or vinegar can go someway to easing the pain if you can tolerate the smell.''

22 comments

  • Whatever happened to natural Aloe Vera Gel?? This is still one of the most effective ways to treat sunburn.

    Commenter
    Anthony
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    January 08, 2013, 9:55AM
    • +1 for Aloe Vera Gel. I burn very easily and have always used this stuff for sunburn. I also use it even after a day out in the sun with sunscreen on.to "calm" my skin down.

      Natural yoghurt is also really good too

      Commenter
      El hatcho
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      January 08, 2013, 12:21PM
    • There a distinct difference between sunscreen and sunburn lotions and it's a mindset that has to be changed. Aloe Vera Gel and other such lotions only serve to soften and soothe sunburnt skin. Once the skin and underlying dermis has been exposed, particularly over-exposed, to the sun, the damage has already been done and no lotion, natural or otherwise, will reverse the damage. I have an elderly relative who was a lifeguard when it was though the deeper the tan, the healthier the body. He has now had cancers removed from face, nose, ears, lips, shoulders, back, legs, arms and more need treatment every year. Not getting burnt is the only solution.

      Commenter
      Dee2
      Date and time
      January 08, 2013, 1:24PM
  • A couple of things.

    I have really white skin so for about 20 years, any time I went out in the sun I would slip-slop-slap. I discovered early on that I was irritated by Zinc, so stopped using that. But modern sunscreens mostly have ultra-fine Zinc, so that it doesn't go on white, but I still get irritated. It is so prolific that I have to look at every bottle and check to make sure it doesn't contain Zinc, otherwise my skin peels and flakes due to the Zinc, not the sun.

    Secondly, if you don't get enough Vitamin D, you risk getting diabetes, depression, osteoporosis, etc. You actually need Vitamin D, and while there is a supplement, that only solves part of the problem, as it is only one type of Vitamin D. You need ultraviolet sunlight to touch your skin to get the right Vitamin D, and the associated possitive chemical reactions that go with it. Supplements don't do that.

    So my advice is to go out in the sun. Of course, keep an eye out for skin cancers, so don't get burnt, and make sure you get about 15 minutes of direct sun a day. The more surface area it hits, the better it is for you, so take your shirt off, wear shorts and turn around in it.

    Commenter
    Tone
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    January 08, 2013, 10:44AM
    • And SPF 15 blocks about 94 percent.

      Commenter
      Blue Anas
      Location
      london
      Date and time
      January 08, 2013, 11:08AM
      • Yum yum ... More un-natural chemicals for your un-natural skin.

        Why not just head down to your local panel beater and get a couple of coats of 2-pack acrylic on your back ??

        Commenter
        Kel
        Date and time
        January 08, 2013, 11:37AM
        • Please let us know what 'un-natural chemicals' are, science needs your help.

          Commenter
          Cynic
          Location
          on line
          Date and time
          January 08, 2013, 4:43PM
      • Fair article. Particularly like the mention that SP50 provides just a 1.3% (theoretical) boost to sun protection over SP30.

        Commenter
        Peter
        Location
        Oz
        Date and time
        January 08, 2013, 11:42AM
        • It doesn't matter how much sunlight is blocked, what matters is how much passes through. SPF 30 allows 3.3% of light through, while SPF 50 allows only 2%, so you've got 40% less light getting through with SPF50. That is VERY significant.

          Commenter
          Dave S
          Location
          Brunswick
          Date and time
          January 08, 2013, 7:46PM
      • I was informed by a Pharmacist that while zinc is easily the best sunscreen, when there is also titanium dioxide present in high qualities it can actually heat the skin to the point where blisters can form so it was best when swimming/surfing as the skin is cooled down.

        Can anyone confirm this?

        Commenter
        Momo
        Location
        Melb
        Date and time
        January 08, 2013, 11:49AM

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