Are you applying sunscreen right?

We all know we have to slip, slop, slap in the harsh Aussie sunshine, but in reality only 15 per cent of us are applying sunscreen correctly.

Research from Cancer Council Australia reveals that 85 per cent of Australians don’t apply sunscreen properly. 

And it seems we aren't alone. Recently, King’s College in London found that many people are applying sunscreen too thinly.

“If you get SPF20 and use at a lower thickness of 0.75 milligrams per centimetre squared, your level of protection could be as low as SPF4,” study leader, Antony Young, professor of experimental photobiology told The Guardian.

While we are aware of the importance of having a high SPF, broad spectrum and water resistant combo, it seems we’re lacking in the application department.

Here, Heather Walker, Chair of the National Skin Cancer Committee, Cancer Council Australia, and Gina Cook, skincare expert and national training manager at Ella Bache, share how to ensure your skin is properly defended.

How much to use

The Cancer Council recommends seven teaspoons (approximately 35 millilitres) for a full body application. "That’s one teaspoon for each limb, one teaspoon for the front of the torso, another for the back, and one for the face, neck and ears," Heather explains. 

Apply it right

It’s important to allow adequate time for your sunscreen to settle before you step out the door. Applying your sunscreen about 20 minutes before heading out will allow time for it to start working.

Despite the theory that it's best to leave a visible layer of sunscreen on your skin, Heather recommends completely rubbing it in so you know you’ve got even coverage. “There’s no rule of thumb in terms of leaving a visible layer, it’s more about getting one teaspoon over each area of the body,” Heather says.

Don’t forget to top up

Although it may be hard to tell how evenly you’ve spread out your sunscreen, Heather says you can get around this by constantly reapplying.

If you keep adding layers, you’re bound to top up spots that you may have previously gone lighter on. Reapply every two hours and more frequently if you’re swimming, sweating or towel drying.

Gina agrees and says that a common sun care mistake is not understanding when to reapply. “A lot of people will wait until they feel burning or see their skin turning pink – when it gets to this stage damage is already occurring,” she explains. 

Ditch the spray sunscreen

Measuring the optimal amount of sunscreen gets a little trickier when it comes to using other products that aren’t a straight lotion.

Heather says the trouble is that most people use sunscreen sprays in a similar way to how you’d apply insect repellent, which won’t give you adequate coverage. Instead, she says that you’d have to hold down the spray button for a long time over each section of the body.

“It's a worry if people are applying it incorrectly or having a false sense of reassurance, lotion or cream is the best bet so you can see how much is in your hand when you're rubbing it in,” she says. "Cancer Council Australia does not recommend the use of sprays."

Chemical VS non-chemical sunscreen

Sunscreens work in one of two ways: either by absorbing the UV (through a chemical reaction) or scattering UV away from the skin (creating a non-chemical barrier between your skin and the sun).

While the debate hasn’t hit Australia as hard as the USA, with Hawaii banning chemical sunscreen in aid of their coral reefs, it’s worth being aware of the concerns surrounding the argument and knowing there are a whole range of non-chemical options available, too.

"The biggest pro of a non-chemical sunscreen is that it's great for people who have sensitive skin as it's less likely to sting the skin," Gina expalins. "However, chemical sunscreens tend to be thinner and easier to apply on the skin."

Whichever way you go, make sure you like the formulation because that’s what will keep you using it.

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