Daily Life


Evil under the sun

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The new Australian sunscreen standard allowing a high SPF50+ rating has made me rethink my already vigilant approach to sun protection. My methods have been flawed. The dermatologists I spoke to this week used terms such as ''carcinogenic'', ''immuno-suppressing'' and ''skin ageing'' in describing the scientifically proven effects of the sun. Unlike in Europe and Britain, sunscreens are regulated as medicines in Australia. I now see that their use and application needs to be approached from this perspective. The sun isn't good for us and we need to keep it off.

Most chillingly, the potentially dangerous UVA wavelength is omnipresent, which I hadn't before quite appreciated. ''Ninety-five per cent of the rays are UVA and they are very penetrating and all-year round - behind glass, on cloudy days, in the middle of winter,'' says one of Australia's leading dermatologists, Dr Greg Goodman.

''We now know UVA sets up immuno-suppression and the chance of getting skin cancer. UVA is the main cause of sun-induced skin ageing.'' Arguably the best aspect of the new standard is that all sunscreens will be required to include a new, higher protection level against UVA rays. A product claiming to be an SPF30+ ''broad spectrum'' sunscreen might well have had a much higher SPF - the manufacturers just couldn't say so - but negligible UVA protection. SPF refers only to UVB protection.

''Broad spectrum sunscreen must now contain UVA protection of about a third,'' says Dr Goodman, Associate Professor of the Dermatology Institute of Victoria. ''UVA has until recently been hard to define and measure.''

Professor Diona Damian of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, says the latest change allowed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration will allow people to have more confidence that they're getting better protection. But she says sunscreen, however high the SPF rating, is only ever a filter, not a complete sunblock.

Reformulated and/or rebranded SPF50+ sunscreens are already on the shelves - including Nivea, Ella Bache and L'Oreal's Lancome and La Roche-Posay - though the majority will not be available till mid-January. The Cancer Council says said no one should be concerned there is anything wrong with SPF30+ sunscreen. "If you have sunscreen in your beach bag, cricket bag or the medicine chest it remains good quality sun protection. SPF50+ is simply a little better,’’ says a spokeswoman. But better is better as far as I am concerned.

I'm overhauling my whole approach to sun protection. I will ensure my sunscreen meets the stringent Australian standards and will choose a pharmaceutical brand. I will use a dedicated sunscreen not just a lucky-dip SPF in a moisturiser or foundation. I will apply it thickly and frequently. Sunscreen is just part of the jigsaw. Sun shading - hats, gloves, sunglasses, clothing, parasols - is even better. Sun avoidance is best of all. I'll give it a shot. Or do you think that's going too far? I wonder what dermatologists do. How do we manage the kids? How far should we go? How far do you go - and are prepared to go this summer?