Since the skin lacks adequate natural defence mechanisms against the damaging effects of UV radiation, total sun avoidance, the wearing of protective clothing, or the application of sun screens is necessary to protect it The latter is obviously more acceptable, and as people have become more conscious of the dangers associated with sun exposure, there has been greater awareness and use of these products.

A sun screen is a product intended for application to the skin to reduce the intensity of UV radiation reaching it. It should be easy to apply, form a thin invisible film, and resist removal by perspiration and swimming. Most importantly, it should be a broad spectrum screen, which absorbs both UVA and UVB radiation. It used to be thought that UVB radiation was the only wavelength to cause burning and permanent sun damage. So these wavelengths were the first to be screened out. However, it is now clear that both UVA and UVB are the cause of premature skin ageing and skin cancer. Therefore, newer preparations known as broad spectrum preparations are the ideal sun screens for Australian conditions. Furthermore, it should be made quite clear that a tan does not protect the skin from cancer-producing wavelengths even though it may prevent sunburn. Sun screens should be applied to dry skin, preferably half to one hour before sun exposure, and be reapplied if sweating is profuse or swimming frequent. The best chemical combinations currently available are those containing either the aminobenzoates or cinnamates, which preferentially absorb UVB, and benzophenone, which absorbs UVA.

The Health Departments and Anti-Cancer Councils in Australia classify sun screens by relating them to the percentage of UVB wave lengths which they screen from the skin. Most products from the United States and Europe, however, are labelled according to their Sun Protection Factor or S. P. F. This value is essentially an indication of how much the period of sun exposure can be prolonged without risking severe sunburn. An S.P.F. of 4 would mean that the product will allow the user to enjoy the sun four times longer than would be possible without protection. For the average individual this would mean an exposure of 40-60 minutes. Since the various products available for the Australian market vary greatly with respect to their S.P.F., the level of protection should be specified in order to simplify the consumer’s choice. Furthermore, it should be made clear that the broad spectrum preparations, although fewer in number, are the ideal choice for Australian conditions.

The only totally effective method of preventing sunburn and the more severe permanent signs of skin damage is to completely avoid the sun. A more satisfactory solution is to apply an effective sun screen preparation every morning as part of one’s daily grooming, along with such routines as hair combing and teeth cleaning. This is necessary in Australia and other sunny climates because of the cumulative effect of the sun from birth onwards. It is the number of hours of exposure to the sun, rather than the intensity of any single exposure, which is the crucial factor with regard to the onset of premature ageing and the formation of skin cancer.


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