Stronger sunscreen not yet a hot topic for bronze brigade

Sun seekers …Harold Hunter, left, and Les O’Keefe at Bronte yesterday. Both spend a lot of time in the sun, but they were uninterested in the new SPF50+ sunscreen.AS TEPID rays finally broke through the clouds at Bronte beach yesterday, swimmers seemed uninterested in trading up to sun protection factor (SPF) 50+ sunscreens expected to be available in time for summer.

Harold Hunter of Double Bay said SPF30+ was quite adequate for his needs. ”When I am down here, I don’t spend more than an hour in the sun,” he said.

Les O’Keefe of Glebe, who spends five days a week swimming at Bronte and the other two at Manly, said he rarely bothered with sunscreen.

Sunscreens are about to become more potent, but some experts say the new standard fails to screen out all potentially damaging rays and risks lulling people into a false sense of using the ultimate protection.

Colin Blair, the chief executive of Standards Australia, which has adopted the new standard, said SPF50+ would ”become the new normal in the way that SPF30+ did over time.” But he warned ratings still needed ”to be put in context of when in the day you go out” and other advice such as wearing a hat and seeking shade.

The ratings are based on a person whose unprotected skin would burn within 10 minutes. Products that have SPF30+ ostensibly allow 30 times greater – or 300 minutes – sun exposure before burning, while SPF50+ would confer 500 minutes of protection.

The managing director of the Australian Photobiology Testing Facility, Gavin Greenoak, who was one of two dissenters on the 13-strong committee that devised the new rating, said he was concerned the new standard did not adequately consider ultraviolet-A rays, which do not burn but are increasingly implicated in skin ageing and cancers.

The new rating requires sunscreens to filter light from across the spectrum, but Mr Greenoak said skin was exposed to multiple light wavelengths simultaneously. ”You can plot [sunscreen’s] effectiveness for each wavelength, but light doesn’t work like that – just as you don’t play a Mozart symphony note by note,” he said.

Mr Greenoak also cautioned people with fairer skin could burn within the period notionally covered by correct sunscreen application.But he said the new standard would still offer improved sun protection and partially compensate for inadequate amounts of sunscreen used.

Chairman of the public health committee of Cancer Council Australia, Craig Sinclair, said the council had initially been concerned people would view higher SPF ratings as a ”shield of steel” and leave them less likely to follow other guidelines.

It had also worried people would skimp on such products if they were thicker. But newer formulations were more comfortable to wear, Mr Sinclair said, and the council supported the upgraded rating.

The federal Department of Health and Ageing must now amend therapeutic goods regulations before SPF50+ sunscreens can be sold.

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