12 sun-smart tips to help understand sunscreen

Wearing sunscreen when in the sun is essential to guard against skin damage, skin cancer and sunburn. Wearing sunsceen also helps skin to look younger for longer.

There are many mistaken beliefs around sunscreen, including that some SPFs are 'stronger' than others, and that zinc sunscrren isn't made from 'chemicals'.

Here we look at what's true and is backed by scientific evidence.
And what's not.

That's the only way we can use sunscreen effectively and with peace of mind.

1. SPF15, 'higher' SPFs give similar protection.

Marketing leads many to think that SPF15 is less effective than SPF30, SPF50 etc.

The truth is that SPF15 gives similar sun protection as 'higher' SPFs when it's applied every two hours (as all sunscreens must be).

Dermatologist Dr Roopal Kundu says (in a JAMA dermatology sunscreen survey) "SPF 15 filters about 93% of UV-B rays; SPF 30 filters about 97% of UV-B rays; and SPF 50 filters about 98% of UV-B rays. 

Dr Kundu says, "The difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is only a 1% filtering improvement." And, "An SPF of 15 is not half as effective as an SPF 30, contrary to what 39% of people in their survey thought."

Put another way, the 'higher' SPF sunscreens give only a few minutes more sun protection than SPF 15. This is certainly not the double and triple protection we're led to believe it is.

Broad spectrum is important 
Dr Kundu emphasises the importance of using a sunscreen that is broad spectrum. Simplicité's Great Outdoors Moisturiser with Sunscreen is broad spectrum.

Study shows SPF 15 is comparable to 'higher' SPFs
In a study published by the American Association for Cancer Research, real life in vivo measurements were taken from a group of subjects one hour after sunscreens of varying SPFs were applied to their skin. After one hour the study showed that the SPF 15 lotion was slightly more effective at absorbing UV than were the SPF 30 and 45. The authors commented, 'Moisturizers with SPF 15 (had) absorbance levels comparable to sunblock with SPF 30 or 45."

SPF 15 has less chemical load than 'higher' SPFS

The advantage of SPF 15 is that it doesn't have the double, triple and higher chemical loads of the approved sunscreening agents that SPF 30, SPF 50 etc contain.

2. Sunscreen shouldn't sting, feel sticky, greasy, or too thick.

Yet, it usually does feel just like that. And no one likes it.

Now is the time to change to a nutrient-rich sunscreen that as well as preventing sunburn, feels wonderful to use and is kind to skin.

Simplicité Great Outdoors Moisturiser with Sunscreen contains huge amounts of nutritive, healing, soothing plant extracts as well as the approved sunscreening agents. 

3. Zinc Oxide sunscreens are ‘chemical sunscreens' too. 

Many people seem convinced that Zinc Oxide (ZnO) sunscreens are not ‘chemical sunscreens'. But again, that's just marketing. Zinc Oxide sunscreens are indeed ‘chemical’ sunscreens. The chemical name for Zinc Oxide is ZnO; for Titanium Dioxide it is TiO2.

At Simplicité we choose not to use Zinc Oxide in our daily sunscreening products. We're not saying Zinc Oxide sunscreen is unsafe, just that it has a tendency to congest skin and also make it look white (unless it's tinted).

Only in our beach and surf sun product do we use a (very high quality) Zinc Oxide, combined with skin friendly ingredients. Sun & Surf Tinted Paste is designed to stay on skin for many hours. It's designed for use at the beach and other places where a thick, physical sunblock is essential for extended frequent sun exposure over repeated days or weeks, such as recreational surfing and playing cricket.

Efficient cleansing of skin surface and pores is essential after use of any Zinc Oxide to avoid skin congestion. To achieve this we recommend precleansing with our Face Oil before using Plant Gel Cleanser (cleanse skin) followed by One Step Exfoliating Cleanser (clear pores).

We also won't use nanoparticle zinc sunscreens. Again, this is not because of any safety issue, but because the smaller particle size make these even more congesting to skin than normal zinc. Nanoparticle zinc ongestion occurs at a deeper level of skin.

4. Even 'four hour water resistant' sunscreen must be reapplied every two hours.

Despite label claims of long lasting water resistance, all sunscreens must be reapplied every two hours (or earlier as needed if perspiring heavily, swimming, or towelling off) to maintain protection.

A controlled scientific sunscreen trial showed there is a decrease in UV absorbance of applied sunscreens over a four hour period, most occuring in the first two hours after application.

On their website under FAQs, the American Academy of Dermatology answers the question, 'Is a high-number SPF better than a low-number one?' by stating that, 'It is also important to remember that high-number SPFs last the same amount of time as low-number SPFs. A high-number SPF does not allow you to spend additional time outdoors without reapplication. All sunscreens should be applied approximately every two hours or according to time on the label, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.'


Sunscreen must be reapplied every two hours and after swimming

5. All sunscreen formulations are designed to stay on the surface of the skin.

We'd like to comment about statements made by some 'organic' sunscreen companies, for example:

"Zinc oxide is a mineral that does not...absorb into your skin and we consider it to be significantly different than the synthetic sunscreen chemicals that only work by absorbing into your skin."

This statement is incorrect.
Our bodies don't 'absorb' any sunscreen active ingredients.

All sunscreen formulations are designed to stay on the surface of skin. That's where they work best. 

Over time (two hours) all sunscreens can sink slightly into the upper layer of the epidermis, which is one of the reasons that all sunscreens must be reapplied every two hours.

Our comment also on this statement from 'organic' sunscreen companies:
"…mineral-based sunscreens have ingredients that reflect, rather than absorb, chemical UV rays."

Correct, chemical absorbers take in the UV 'energy' and over a period of time re-emit that energy at lower wavelengths (heat) released over an extended period of time. 
How this works: a film of (sunscreen) molecules forms a protective barrier either absorbing (chemical filters) or reflecting (physical blockers) UV photons before they can be absorbed by our DNA and other reactive molecules deeper in the skin.' 

6. Think again if you have a tan and don’t apply sunscreen.

A tan can offer very limited protection but no more than SPF4 (the lowest sunscreen rating), depending on skin type. A tan does not protect from DNA damage, which can lead to skin cancer.

6. Don't worry about nanoparticles in sunscreen.

We don't use 'nanoparticles' in our sunscreens (see 3. above) because we believe these, as well as zinc oxide, can contribute to congestion in the top layers of skin.

Not because of the claims circulating that say nanoparticles are dangerous, can penetrate skin and get into the bloodstream. The Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) that regulates sunscreens sold in Australia says this isn't true and we shouldn't worry about nanoparticles.

A 2013 literature review by the TGA concluded that studies had shown "nano-sized titanium dioxide and zinc oxide particles do not penetrate the underlying layers of skin, and that on current evidence neither … are likely to cause harm when used as ingredients in sunscreens."

Not harm, simply that they'll congest skin.

8. Using sun protection won't cause vitamin D deficiency.

If you're concerned about vitamin D deficiency as a result of sunscreen use, Cancer Council Australia’s chief executive Dr Oliver debunks this myth in an academic journal article. He says people who do the full "slip, slop, slap" when in the sun will in most cases still get enough incidental sunlight for good health.

Dr Olver says "the harms of sun exposure in Australia far outweigh the risks of vitamin D deficiency." 

9. All sunscreen ingredients are safe.

That's what the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence says. 

Regardless of this, sensationalist and misleading articles lead some to believe that ingredients commonly found in many sunscreens are linked to endocrine disruption which affects our hormones.
Customer email:
"Oxbenzone/Benzophenone-3 in my much loved Simplicité sunscreen - I've been reading that this is a hormone disrupter according to these websites.
https://www.truthinaging.com/ingredients/benzophenone-3http://www.sarahwilson.com/2012/02/sunscreen/ "

From naturopath and herbalist David Lyons: the good news about sunscreen.
"We're all very conscious about using sunscreens, after all, 2000 Australians each year die from skin cancer and there are 2500 treatments each working day for skin cancers. 

The good news is there's no concern about using sunscreen on ourselves or for coral reefs (see 10). The one study, done on rats, that showed BP-3/Oxybenzone is endocrine disrupting has been put into perspective by a research letter published in the Journal of the American Medicine Association (Dermatology). 

To achieve the dose given to the rats in that study we'd have to apply it to our face arms, and neck every day for 277 years! (And leave every application on, never wash it off.)

Also it was shown that BP-3/Oxybenzone has only ONE MILLIONTH the oestrogen effect of human oestrogen.  

The overwhelming amount of scientific evidence says all sunscreen ingredients are safe.  The ingredients Simplicité use are approved in the European Union, USA, Australia, Canada, Japan, and many other countries."

10. Ingredients such as oxybenzone in absorber type sunscreens don't contribute to coral bleaching.

We're told often that 'zinc oxide sunscreen is much better for you and the environment, particularly if you’re an ocean lover.'

This isn't true.

David Lyons again:
"Fortunately it has been shown that our reefs are safe. A recent newspaper article reported that Queensland's Great Barrier Reef is alive and well - not dead or dying.

In Western Australia, the CSIRO says tourist hotspot Ningaloo Reef is in as good a condition as it was 30 years ago. No evidence of bleaching was found by CSIRO ecologist Damien Thompson. 

Elsewhere, a study confirms that sunscreen measurements taken in water in popular beaches around Hawaii and in the US Virgin Islands were well within safe levels quoted in research. Most readings in Hawaii were at barely detectable levels. Just one small bay in the US Virgin Islands managed to get a reading of approx half of what research shows will have an effect on coral. This one small bay is heavily visited by cruise ship day-trippers and usually has 300 swimmers in the water, in a very small area, at any one time."

11. 'Old’ skin needs sun protection just as much as 'young' skin does.

It's a common misconception that UV damage to skin occurs mostly in childhood. Of course infants and young children have more sensitive skin than adults, but your risk of skin cancer increases with UV damage to skin at any age.

One of the world’s most thorough studies of sun protection among adults monitored 1,600 people in Nambour, Queensland with an average age of 49 and found that those who regularly used sunscreen over four-and-a-half years developed significantly fewer squamous cell carcinomas. Over ten years, the group applying sunscreen also developed half as many melanomas as the control group.

Using correct and adequate sun protection can reduce your risk of skin cancer at any age.

12. Sunscreens of all types can congest skin.

A negative aspect of sunscreen use is that many types of sunscreen congest skin. When skin pores block up, breakouts and blackheads invariably follow. Congested skin can also easily dry out - this contributes to premature ageing.

Zinc oxide sunscreens are usually the culprits for causing skin congestion.
After every use of a zinc oxide sunscreen it is essential to thoroughly cleanse and exfoliate skin at night with effective products that also will not strip the skin.

An additional problem is that many zinc oxide sunscreen formulas ALSO invariably include beeswax, shea butter, too-thick-for-skin cheap oils and so on – these ingredients are notorious for contributing to skin congestion and so also, causing the above problems.

13. (Bonus) Sunscreen must be applied liberally to be effective.

Most people don't apply enough sunscreen*, say scientists who've done several consumer studies on this subject.

For sunscreens to be effective it is vital that a generous amount be applied over all areas of exposed skin.

Not only that, researchers say that for best results sunscreens should be:

  • 'pre-applied' 15-30 min prior to sun exposure.
    (Because this allows emulsion systems which break on application to the (microscopically) rough skin surface, to resettle for optimum performance.)
  • evenly applied to the skin as a layer or film, NOT rubbed in.
    (See above reason.)
  • applied again at actual time of exposure.
    Doing this will counter the under-usage problem* and boost sun protection closer to what the labelled SPF is predicted to give.
    natural skin care oxybenzone sensitive skin sunscreen

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    David and Robin Lyons

    Simplicité Founders

    "We help our customers to never again feel disappointed or worried about their skin. Every day we hear from surprised, happy, satisfied people about the most effective skin care products they’ve ever found."