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How to avoid the lobster look

December 2010

It's tricky. Some days you don't notice that you're getting burnt until it's far too late. You look in the mirror and realise that your nose could rival Rudolph's, your cheeks are more than rosy and your parting is bright red and already starting to peel.

On a summer day the temptation to strip off and hit the beach or the pool is irresistible. It's so easy to use sun protection, but not correctly, or not enough, and you end up burnt.

Here are some tips to help you avoid the lobster look this summer:

  • Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside and reapply at least every two hours.
  • Always reapply after swimming or sports, even if it's water resistant.
  • Use broad spectrum, water resistant SPF 30+ sunscreen. That's a lot of jargon! So, SPF stand for sun protection factor and in lab conditions SPF30+ sunscreen filters around 97% of UV (or ultraviolet) radiation. Broad spectrum means it protects you from both UVA and UVB radiation - UVA radiation causes wrinkles blotchiness, sagging and roughness and contributes to skin cancer, while UVB penetrates the top layer of skin and is the main cause of skin damage and skin cancer.
  • Use lots of sunscreen. If you don't you'll not be getting the SPF that it says on the bottle.  For a medium sized person ( for example someone that is 65kg and 165cm tall) you should use half a teaspoon on each arm, your face and your neck, and over one teaspoon on each leg, the front of your body and your back - this totally up to about 35 ml per application! If you are a bigger frame you will need more.
  • Check the expiry date, did you know that sunscreen goes off? Most sunscreens last two or three years but they need to be stored at a temp below 30°C. If sunscreen is left in the hot glovebox of your car all summer it may not work as well.
  • Pick for purpose not by price. Price isn't always an indication of quality, so select sunscreen based on what activity you'll be doing. It can come in many different forms such as cream, lotion, milk, spray or gel.
  • Not all sunscreens are the same; they have very different ingredients. Not all people are the same, some with very different sensitivities. Find one that works for you. If you've got allergies chat to a chemist or doctor and they can help you find something suitable.

But you should never just use sunscreen, remember to...

  • Seek shade - shade can block out 75% of a person direct exposure to UV.
  • Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible such as collared shirts and three-quarter-length trousers and tops if you're out in the sun.
  • Put on a hat, ideally one with a wide brim that will protect your face, head, neck and ears. Caps provide very little protection.
  • Grab your sunnies, everyone looks cool in sunglasses, FACT. But make sure that they meet the Australian Standards.
  • Check the UV each day before you go out online at sunsmart.com.au or on your iPhone using the free SunSmart app.  At this time of year, UV Index levels are likely to be high even on mild or cloudy days, so use the alert daily to check the times of the day that you need to slip, slop, slap, seek, slide.
  • If you are wondering about vitamin D. This time of the year most people should be able to maintain vitamin D by getting just a few minutes a day on their face, arms and hands (or an equivalent area of skin) of sun but keep it to when the UV is not at its peak (either side of 10 am to 3 pm). People with naturally very dark skin may need three to six times this exposure.

For more information about UV, skin cancer and vitamin D, check out the SunSmart website.

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