Sunscreen

Sunscreens and sun protection

Sunscreen products are cosmetic products in accordance with the Cosmetics Regulation. They have an important "protective" function against ultraviolet (UV) radiation. There are two types of UV radiation, UVA and UVB. UVB radiation causes the skin to darken in colour, or in some instances, burn. UVA penetrates the skin further than UVB causing skin aging, resulting in wrinkles and pigmentation. Both forms of UV radiation have the potential to cause cancer.

UVB

SPF or ‘sun protection factor’ is a measure of a product’s ability to prevent UVB radiation from damaging the skin.  There are many products on the market which vary in their SPF ratings and it can be difficult to understand the level of protection a particular SPF rating can provide. It is important to note that there is no SPF that can completely block all UVB rays. However, the higher the SPF, the higher protection you will be provided with. Many sunscreen labels also contain a category of sun protection, ‘low’ (SPF 6 & 10), ‘medium’ (SPF 15, 20 & 25), ‘high’ (SPF 30 & 50) and ‘very high’ (SPF 50+).

UVA

A sunscreen which claims UVA protection must provide a certain level of UVA protection in line with EU guidelines. A product that contains the EU recommended minimum level of UVA protection is labeled with a UVA logo as follows:
UVA Tag

The label of the sunscreen should be examined to ensure the product contains the appropriate amount of sun protection needed for your skin type.

It is also important to read all of the instructions and warnings on the sunscreen label and to apply the correct amount of sunscreen to ensure the level of protection is consistent with that claimed on the label.


Amount:
The average sized adult should be using at the very least six full teaspoons of sun cream in order to give the indicated protection. Using quantities less than this will decrease the SPF/ UVA protection of the product.  For children, the minimum amount of sun cream is based on factors including height and weight of the child.  Sun cream should always be applied 20 minutes before exposure to the sun and reapplied at a minimum of every two hours.

                HPRA Sun web 1 (P3)


Use By: 

There should be an open jar symbol on the packaging of sunscreens that indicates the maximum time for which the product is safe to use once open. For example, if  ‘24M’ is on the symbol then this indicates a usage period of 24 months for which it is safe to use after opening.

If a sunscreen has been opened the previous year and still within the timeline of the open jar symbol it should be checked to make sure it hasn’t separated before using.

Storage:

Sunscreens should be stored in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight or as detailed on the label of the product. 

When buying: 

Sunscreens should only be purchased from a reputable source where the product can be traced to a supplier. You should: 

  • check for a European address on the label of the sunscreen, the absence of which may indicate that the product has been imported from outside the EU and may not meet European requirements for safety assessment. 
  • choose a level of protection appropriate for your skin type that includes both UVA and UVB (SPF) protection. 

Tips for sensible sun exposure:

  • Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before exposure to the sun to allow it to dry.
  • Don’t forget areas such as the ears, neck, nose, lips, hands and feet as these areas are frequently overlooked and can be particularly sensitive to sun damage.
  • Your skin does not need to redden or ‘burn’ to be experiencing the effects of sun damage. Do not wait until your skin has burnt before applying sun screen, always apply sun screen prior to sun exposure.
  • Frequently re-apply sunscreen to exposed areas of skin, at least every two hours. You should increase frequency of application if you are perspiring, after swimming and/or towel drying. Even waterproof or ‘once a day application’ sunscreen needs to be re-applied regularly.

 

 

  • Ensure your sunscreen has UVA and UVB protection, is of an adequate SPF, 15 or higher. Ensure your sunscreen is in date, check the expiry date and ‘period after opening’. 

 

  • Avoid spending prolonged periods of time in direct sunlight.
  • Keep babies and young children out of direct sunlight.

 

  • As much as possible, keep exposed areas of skin covered with clothing such as long sleeves, long trousers and a hat.
  • Ensure your eyes are protected by wearing sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection.
  • People with fair or red hair, pale skin and the elderly and children should take particular care in the sun. Sunscreens that provide high or very high sun protection (SPF 30 and above) should be used on babies and children and should be reapplied regularly.

 

  • Limit the amount of time spent in the sun, particularly between the hours of 11am and 3 pm (1100 -1500 hours). This is when the sun is hottest and therefore increases your chances of sun damage.

The regulation of cosmetics in Ireland falls under the remit of the HPRA which investigate any non-compliance with EU Regulations.  The market surveillance programme for cosmetic products, which includes sunscreens and other similar products, is coordinated by the HPRA and the HSE’s Environmental Health Service and Public Analysts’ Laboratories. 

*These recommendations are guidance only. Adults and children should apply at least the guidance amount of sunscreen.  Amounts are calculated based on the surface area of an average adult's skin of 1.8m2 and the average weight and height of children at these ages (UK figures).