Sunscreen Finder: UVA, UVB, SPF ratings and more

Learn how to compare all the options to choose a sunscreen to protect yourself against the hot Aussie sun.

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Best Sunscreen

Best Rated Sunscreen Brand Cancer Council:

Cancer Council has been crowned the best sunscreen brand. Competing against brands like Bondi Sands, Banana Boat and Nivea, Cancer Council received top scores for ease of absorption, texture, consistency and effectiveness.

Key facts about sunscreen:

  • From creams and lotions to sprays and roll-ons, sunscreen comes in many different forms.
  • The key factors to consider when choosing sunscreen are making sure it has a high SPF rating, is labelled broad spectrum, is resistant to water and is TGA approved.

What should I know about sunscreen?

Ever picked up a sunscreen bottle and been overwhelmed by the acronyms and other jargon on the label? Let's take a look at a few key terms you should know when buying sunscreen.

Broad spectrum

The sun emits different types of ultraviolet light, and there are two we need to worry about when protecting our skin: UVA and UVB. Both of them can cause cancer, which is why it's important to look for a sunscreen labelled as being broad spectrum – this means it offers protection against UVA and UVB rays.

SPF

SPF stands for sun protection factor. This rating indicates the amount of UV rays a sunscreen allows to reach the skin.

The highest rating for sunscreens sold in Australia is SPF50+. According to the Cancer Council, this filters out 98% of UV radiation, with the remaining 2% (or 1/50th) getting through to the skin. SPF50+ sunscreen is only slightly more effective than SPF30+ sunscreen, which filters out 96.7% of UV radiation but lets 1/30th reach the skin.

The higher the SPF rating, the higher the level of protection a sunscreen offers.

What are my main options?

Sunscreen is sold in many different forms:

  • Creams
  • Lotions
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Roll-ons
  • Gels

Each option has its own pros and cons. For example, the Cancer Council doesn't recommend aerosol spray sunscreens because they're difficult to apply correctly. Roll-ons are portable and convenient, while some people prefer gels that aren't as sticky as creams and lotions.

In many cases, it all comes down to personal preference. Just make sure the product you choose has a high SPF rating and is approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) – look for the sunscreen's Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods listing number (AUST L number) on the label.

How to compare sunscreen

Can't decide which sunscreen to buy? Make sure to consider these factors when comparing products.

SPF rating

The Cancer Council recommends choosing a sunscreen with an SPF30+ rating or higher. For the highest level of protection, use SPF50+ sunscreen.

Broad spectrum

Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

TGA approval

Make sure the sunscreen features an Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods listing number (AUST L number) on the label. This means it has been approved by the TGA.

Water-resistance

Check the label to find out if the sunscreen is water-resistant and, if so, for how long. Only sunscreens that have an SPF of 30 or greater can claim to be water-resistant for four hours.

Sensitive skin

If your skin reacts to sunscreen or other creams and lotions, look for a product designed for people with sensitive skin.

Price

Prices vary between brands and depending on the type of sunscreen (e.g. cream, roll-on or spray) you buy. However, when comparing two products of the same type, as long as they have the same SPF rating, waterproof rating and are TGA approved, there's no reason not to go for the cheaper option.

Ready to buy? Check out our roundup of the best sunscreen in Australia

Skin cancer in Australia

Australia's skin cancer statistics make for sobering reading. It's estimated that more than 16,000 melanoma of the skin cases will be diagnosed in 2020, with melanoma expected to cause 1,375 deaths in 2020. And at the end of 2015, more than 57,000 Australians were living with melanoma of the skin, having been diagnosed in the period from 2011 to 2015.

Sunscreen reduces the risk of skin cancer, but it's just one way to protect yourself against the harsh Aussie sun. It also doesn't protect you against all UV rays, so other measures like wearing a hat, donning protective clothing, staying in the shade and avoiding the sun in the middle of the day are also important.

Four things to consider

There are a few more things to consider before you choose the right sunscreen for your family:

  • Is sunscreen safe? If you're worried about whether sunscreen is safe to apply to your skin, the answer is yes. The TGA regulates therapeutic sunscreens sold in Australia and assesses the safety of ingredients used. It has also published and continues to update a literature review on the safety of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreens. Its findings are that, on current evidence, neither titanium dioxide nor zinc oxide nanoparticles "are likely to cause harm when used as ingredients in sunscreens and when sunscreens are used as directed".
  • How much sunscreen should I apply? If you're unsure whether you're using enough sunscreen, you may be surprised by the recommended amount. According to the TGA website, you should apply sunscreen every two hours and use one cupped hand (30 to 40ml) for an adult body. Broken down, that means half a teaspoon's worth for the face, neck and ears, and a minimum of a teaspoon for each limb and the front and back of your body.
  • What about cosmetic sunscreen? As well as sunscreen, the TGA regulates insect repellents that contain sunscreen with an SPF of 4 or more and moisturisers with an SPF of more than 15. Cosmetic sunscreens that don't fall under the TGA's purview are regulated by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS), so they must meet different regulations. Even if you use a cosmetic sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater, keep in mind that, just like any other sunscreen, it'll need to be reapplied every two hours to ensure it's as effective as possible. The Cancer Council also points out that many cosmetics aren't water-resistant, so they may not be suitable if you're swimming, sweating or spending a lot of time outside.
  • When to apply? The Cancer Council recommends using sunscreen on days when the UV index is forecast to be 3 or higher. You should apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside. It should also be reapplied every two hours, as well as after swimming or sweating, to provide the best protection.

Check out our list of the best face sunscreen in Australia

Best rated sunscreen brand award breakdown

Total Score Overall rating Value for Money Effectiveness Ease of absorption Texture and consistency
Cancer Council 8.45 4.59 4.49 4.67 4.45 4.59
ALDI Ombra 8.31 4.55 4.63 4.39 4.29 4.37
La Roche-Posay 8.18 4.48 4 4.55 4.34 4.45
Banana Boat 8.12 4.43 4.14 4.41 4.25 4.31
Other 7.9 4.34 4 4.4 4.23 4.23
Neutrogena 7.89 4.26 4.12 4.38 4.42 4.34
SunSense 7.87 4.28 4.14 4.35 4.21 4.21
Invisible Zinc 7.83 4.35 4.1 4.45 4.15 4.2
Le Tan 7.78 4.24 3.95 4.24 3.9 4.14
Nivea 7.74 4.25 3.96 4.24 4.16 4.16
Bondi Sands 7.54 4.19 3.81 3.9 3.86 4
Woolworths 7.48 4.04 4.22 4.1 3.94 3.86
Coles 7.26 3.84 4.14 3.94 3.98 3.84
Reef 6.79 3.6 3.55 3.95 3.75 3.65
Sun Bum 5.19 2.75 2.63 3.25 3 3.25
Data: Finder Retail Brand Survey, 2020, Kantar. Metric out of 5 stars unless indicated. Methodology and more info. Kantar logo

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