Sunscreen 101 — ODE Dermatology

Sunscreen 101

The best products to use and how to apply them

Sunscreen 101

As seen on The Age

By Samantha Selinger-Morris •

Most people know that Australia is one of the skin cancer capitals of the world, with one of the highest rates of the disease globally.

And yet countless patients walk into Dr Shyamalar Gunatheesan’s dermatology practice every day completely bemused as to how and when to apply sunscreen.

“People are just doing a lot to their face,” says Dr Gunatheesan, founder of Melbourne’s ODE Dermatology, referring to the multiple skincare steps – including various serums and moisturisers – that many people now regularly apply.

“So people go, ‘Uh, maybe I need to put my sunscreen under my vitamin B and C.’ So it’s the numerous steps that I think are confusing people.

”Now that we’re heading into summer when UVA and UVB rays – the ones largely responsible for, respectively, skin ageing and skin cancer – are at their peak, what should we be doing to keep ourselves protected?

Studies show that people generally put on less than half the sunscreen that is necessary to get the full SPF level listed on their tube and miss spots when they apply.

But which sunscreen to use? And when exactly in your morning skincare routine should you apply it?

Sunscreen should be the last layer of skincare a person applies, says Gunatheesan – so after serums and moisturiser, but before any make-up.

For people with sensitive skin conditions of any kind (common ones include rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, or any other impaired skin barrier) Gunatheesan recommends physical sunscreens over chemical sunscreens.

“More and more research is showing that zinc is probably the safest sun-protecting agent for UVA and UVB rays,” she says, noting one of the most popular physical sunscreen ingredients.

“Because it’s soothing. You think about it, you use it in nappy balm for your kids’ dermatitis. It’s anti-inflammatory.” And many new zinc formulations like Rationale’s #3 Tinted Serum also avoid leaving a dreaded white cast on the skin, she adds, making them particularly suitable for people with darker skin tones.

The other key physical sunscreen ingredient to look out for is titanium dioxide. Both that and zinc work by reflecting the sun’s rays immediately after application.

Chemical sunscreens, which contain ingredients like avobenzone, octocrylene and benzophenone, absorb UVA and UVB rays and cause a chemical reaction in a person’s skin to break them down.

These sunscreens take 20 minutes, after application, to be effective.

For many people, chemical sunscreens, which are just as effective as physical sunscreens, don’t cause any adverse reaction. “But this chemical reaction releases heat, which can be worse for sensitive skin or rosacea patients,” Gunatheesan says.

People using any sunscreen, she adds, should still check the ingredients in their tube and undergo a patch test for three consecutive days on their forearm to see how they react, because formulas can feature nut oils or other ingredients that frequently cause skin sensitivity.

But most importantly, people need to find a sunscreen that they enjoy the feel of on their skin, Gunatheesan says. “If it’s going to prevent skin cancer, the best sunscreen is the one that you’re going to use.

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