A guide to talking with a sunscreen skeptic

A guide to talking with a sunscreen skeptic

Sunscreen. It’s been a hot topic of late.

There hasn’t been this much debate about applying sunscreen since… well, since any time you’ve tried putting it on a small child as they scrambled towards the beach.

To summarise “sunscreen-gate” - a celebrity chef has spent the last week trying to convince everyone that sunscreen is dangerous and that we all need to calm down about sun protection.

To be completely honest, I was a skeptic of the skeptic from the very beginning. I like to take my advice on these issues from the experts, not judges on cooking shows.

But I do think it’s important to take this opportunity to remember why we should care so much about sun protection.

So consider this a handy guide full of scientific facts to rebut any future sunscreen skeptics.

But if I was going to arm myself with the facts, I needed to find me an expert - and when it comes to an expert on sun protection, you can’t find better than Craig Sinclair, Director of the Cancer Prevention Centre at Cancer Council Victoria, Director of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Collaborative Centre for UV Radiation and the chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Public Health Committee.

Craig is also a dad of two - so he knows the struggle is real to apply sunscreen to wriggling, complaining kids.

Here’s what Craig said when I questioned him about four popular (but unfounded) sunscreen myths:

1. Is sunscreen poisonous or dangerous?

“We’re really fortunate in Australia in that our sunscreens are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration - they are treated like they are a pharmaceutical product. There are very stringent controls over the chemicals that are allowed to be used in the sunscreen, and there is regulation over the claims stated over the bottle about what the sunscreen is actually delivering.

Consumers should have every possible degree of confidence that the sunscreen they are purchasing in Australia that is approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration is not only safe but will also prevent your risk of skin cancer. Parents should feel completely confident that their sunscreen is safe for their kids.”

2. Does having a constant tan mean that you are at less risk of skin cancer?

“No. A tan is a sign of the skin being forced to react to try and protect itself. When you develop a tan there is inherently DNA damage. A tan is not going to reduce your risk of skin cancer.

We really have, as parents, a really important responsibility that we minimise the risk of kids spending too long exposed to the sun when the UV index is greater than three.”

3. Do we need to bother with sun protection in winter?

“In Queensland, for example, the UV index is greater than three the whole year round. It is important that parents take special care with their kids the whole year round. In Melbourne, kids need sun protection from September to April. Right now, the UV index is lower than three in Melbourne. UV measurements can be obtained through apps and websites like SunSmart.” 

4. If we hide kids from the sun too much will they be more at risk of skin cancer as adults?

“I appreciate, as a parent, just how difficult it is to get sunscreen on kids. It’s vital that we ensure our kids develop a sun smart routine at an early age. I think of it in the same way as developing a dental hygiene routine.”

So there you have it - next time a well-meaning friend casts doubt on the need for sunscreen - hit them with the facts… and apply liberally.


EllyElly is the Communications and Digital Campaigns Manager at The Parenthood. When she's not watching 24 hour news channels, you'll find her with the love of her life - Percy, her two year old black labrador.