Danielle Wright finds out what to look for in a sunscreen

New Zealand has the highest rate of melanoma in the world, despite years of an anti-tan culture and widespread use of sun safety messages. What are we doing wrong?

It seems we're not putting sunscreen on often enough and not using enough when we do. A survey by Banana Boat shows that only 11 per cent of New Zealanders are using sunscreen every day, which has the potential to greatly reduce the chances of invasive melanoma.

Survey results also show that two thirds of Kiwis are "put off" using sunscreen due to potentially greasy residue, and more than a third say the white finish deters them. There are so many sunscreen options that these no longer seem good excuses.

When shopping around for the perfect sunscreen, first make sure it's broad-spectrum, which means you'll be protected against UVB (cancer-causing and burns your skin) and UVA (skin-ageing and stimulates freckles, wrinkles and dark spots). If it doesn't say broad or full spectrum on the packaging, it will only be protecting against UVB.


The next step is to look for Sun Protection Factor (SPF), which can range from 10 to 100, with the most common being 15, 30 and 50.

"SPF 15 is quite low and usually blended in a day cream," says Sheree Shim, founder of La'Bonic organic skincare. "For an active sunblock, look for SPF30+. Many studies show that above 30 the coverage is quite similar, but between SPF15 and SPF30, there's a significant difference."

You'll also need to decide whether you prefer mineral or chemical ingredients. Mineral sunscreens are normally best for children or those with sensitive skin, but sometimes have a whiter appearance on the skin, and sometimes a strong smell.

The main difference is that natural sunblock stays on the skin, reflecting sunlight and UV rays, whereas chemical sun blocks are absorbed into the skin and sunlight reacts with the chemicals to convert light energy to heat energy penetrating the skin.

Natural sunscreen usually contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. If your sunscreen doesn't contain these, it's probably a chemical sunscreen.

"The question of whether to use mineral or chemical sunscreens isn't a big issue and we haven't seen the absorption of sunscreens into the skin having any detrimental effects. There's no evidence nano-particles get into living cells," says MoleMap diagnosing dermatologist, David Scollay.

Once you've made your decision, look for application. Spray-on sunscreens, such as Banana Boat Clear Sunscreen Spray 30+, work well for children who don't like to stay still, roll-ons (such as La'Bonic natural sunblock stick or roll-on), sunscreens as lip balms (such as Coola Suncare's organic peppermint vanilla SPF 15 version) and classic pumps, as well as those with added extras such as antioxidants, whitening and brightening ingredients, or sunscreen in a BB or day cream.

Now you've found your perfect match, you might be told not to wear it every day because of a risk of Vitamin D deficiency, but, according to Dr Scollay: "Vitamin D deficiency isn't a big enough reason not to wear sunscreen. Just a few minutes of exposure before 10am or after 4pm will create more than enough Vitamin D in your body."

With so many options, there's a daily sunscreen right for you. Pop it in the bag next to the umbrella. One thing you learn about New Zealand's weather is that you might need both on any given day, so it's best to be prepared all year round.

Here's the rub

• Use only broad-spectrum sunscreens (both UVA and UVB protection).

• SPF 30+ sunscreen is recommended.

• Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every two hours.

• Mixing products containing SPFs doesn't increase effectiveness (as in, 15+ sunscreen and then a 15+ foundation does not add up to 30+ protection).

• The Cancer Society suggests a teaspoon of sunscreen for each arm and leg, and a half for face, ears and neck.

• Store sunscreen in a cool place. It may lose its effectiveness in the sun. Replace yearly.

• Wear sunscreen every day. It may just save your life.