The Truth About Sunscreen: How to Protect Your Skin

Australia has one of the highest incidences of skin cancer and melanoma in the world. Regular exposure to the sun also contributes to the development of wrinkles and pigmentation.

It’s safe to say that regularly wearing sunscreen is one of the most important things you can do to protect your skin’s health and appearance.

However, choosing the right sunscreen can be a daunting task. What do all those labels mean? Is it better to use physical or chemical sunscreens? What’s behind that SPF lingo?

Read on for our complete breakdown of sunscreens and how they work.

 

What causes sun damage?

Sun damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation that is naturally emitted by the sun or artificially by tanning beds. There are two types of UV light that cause harm: UVA and UVB. 

  • UVA has a longer wavelength that can penetrate deep into the skin. It is associated with skin ageing.
  • UVB has a shorter wavelength that damages the outermost layers of the skin. It is associated with sunburn and blistering.

Exposure to both UVA and UVB rays damages the DNA in skin cells, putting you at risk of skin cancer. Look for the labels ‘broad protection’ or ‘broad-spectrum’ to identify a product that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.

 

What does SPF mean?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It relates to the amount of time it takes for redness to appear on the skin compared to when no product is used at all. This test is done in a laboratory.

For example, if it takes 10 minutes for unprotected skin to show redness, then skin that has had SPF 30 sunscreen applied will take 30 times longer, or 300 minutes, to burn. 

Outside of laboratory settings there are many factors that can affect these numbers. Skin type, UV levels, swimming, drying off, and how much sunscreen has been used can all affect levels of protection.

That's why it is recommended to apply sunscreen liberally every two hours, or after swimming, sweating, and towel drying.

SPF 50 is the highest SPF available in Australia. According to the Australian Cancer Council, SPF 50 sunscreens can filter 98% of UV radiation. It is the best protection a sunscreen can offer. Naturally, the sunscreen offered by Liberty Belle Rx, Superstar, is SPF 50+.

 

What are the different types of sunscreen?

Sunscreens are divided into two categories, physical and chemical.

Chemical sunscreens must be absorbed into the skin before they can work, which is why you often hear the advice to wait twenty minutes after applying sunscreen before you venture into the sun.

When UV rays hit the skin, the chemicals absorb them and convert them to heat energy, which is then diffused in the body.

Chemical sunscreens are popular because they are thinner in consistency, but they are not ideal for those prone to pigmentation and melasma as they can make these conditions worse.

Chemical sunscreens have also come under fire in recent years. Different chemicals can be used to achieve the same effect, so some products use ingredients that have not been approved for safety or effectiveness. Some chemicals are also not stable and must be combined with other, potentially harmful ingredients to make them stable.

According to studies published by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the following ingredients were detected in the skin and blood weeks after sunscreen use had ceased. More information is needed about the short or long-term toxicity of these chemicals in the blood:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • Avobenzone

Some of the ingredients above are not only potentially hazardous to your health, they can also cause environmental problems. Oxybenzone and oxtinoxate were both banned in Hawaii due to the damage they cause to coral reefs.

If these ingredients can damage reefs, it’s probably not a good idea to put them on your body. Some even advocate washing off chemical sunscreens as soon as you’re out of the sun to limit any possible negative effects.

By contrast, physical sunscreens (also called mineral sunscreens) sit on top of the skin and act as physical barriers to prevent UV light harming the skin. They work from the moment they are applied, are usually thicker in consistency, and rely on natural ingredients like zinc oxide. They are also safe for coral reefs.

In 2019, the FDA found that only two ingredients commonly used in sunscreen could be classified as safe and effective – titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

To protect your skin and the environment, we recommend using physical sunscreens like our Superstar SPF 50, which contains zinc oxide as its hero ingredient.

Which sunscreen is better for sensitive skin? 

Given that they rely on approved, safe, and natural ingredients, physical/mineral sunscreens are recommended for sensitive skin types. They are also recommended for children.

Liberty Belle’s Superstar is made entirely from natural and naturally-derived ingredients. Our clinicians recommend it as the best choice for all skin types.

 

Why do sunscreens differ in consistency?

Physical sunscreens are thicker than chemical sunscreens because they use ground-up minerals to act as a barrier that reflects harmful UV rays.

Some people dislike physical sunscreens because they feel thick and heavy, or because they leave a fine white residue on the skin. That’s why we created Superstar. We wanted to provide the very best and safest sun protection that only physical sunscreens can offer while avoiding the aesthetic problems that come with some physical sunscreens.

Superstar’s hero ingredient is a form of zinc oxide known as Micronised Zinc. This is zinc oxide that has been ground into an extremely fine powder to allow for silky-smooth diffusion while avoiding any white appearance. It also acts as a fantastic base for make-up.

Due to its unique composition, Superstar must be applied in a certain way. After pumping out the desired amount, warm the product by rubbing it between your fingertips, then pat and press it onto the skin until you have even coverage. You will notice that it turns clear when applied in this way.

superstar SPF

Should I use creams, lotions, or sprays?

Aerosolised sunscreens have become popular recently, but creams and lotions remain the preferred methods of application. This comes down to a few factors.

Research by the Australian Cancer Council suggests that greater amounts of aerosol sunscreens are required to provide the same protection as creams and lotions. Consumers who do not know this risk sun damage by not using enough.

Aerosols also have a variable distribution that make it difficult to ensure even coverage. There’s nothing worse than finding out you’ve ‘missed a spot’ by uncovering a nasty burn later that day, especially if it happens to your kids.

Finally, spray-on sunscreens put users at risk of inhaling chemicals that can cause damage to the lungs and internal organs. They may also ingest aerosolised sunscreens when sprayed onto the lips. Considering what we know about the potential dangers of many common chemical filters, it is safest to stick with creams and lotions. 

 

How do I apply sunscreen?

The Australian Cancer Council recommends seven teaspoons of sunscreen for one full-body adult application: one teaspoon for each arm and leg, one for the front of the torso, one for the back, and one for the face, neck and ears. Sunscreen should be applied twenty minutes before going outside and should be reapplied every two hours, or more if swimming, sweating, or towel-drying.

While many of us think about sun protection only when it’s time to hit the beach, for optimal protection you should use SPF every day.

Liberty Belle Rx’s Superstar was specially designed for everyday use. Simply apply as the last step in your skincare regimen in the AM, but before any make-up. Dispense a small amount and warm the product by rubbing between your fingertips, then pat it onto the face, neck, and décolletage until you have even coverage. Follow with make-up as desired.

 

If you have any questions about sun damage treatment and prevention, please get in touch with us at Liberty Belle Skin Centre on 03 9826 9988.

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"In keeping with my commitment to excellence in results and patient care, Liberty Belle Rx brings together the most effective balance of innovative and proven actives in one luxurious range.”

- DR CHRIS MOSS MB BS, DIP. ANAT., FRACS   PLASTIC SURGEON