While we’re welcoming the much-needed warmth and vitamin d, there’s no doubt that the sun’s rays are damaging to our skin. Read on to discover exactly how to best protect yourself.
Why is the sun so damaging?
"As most of us are aware, the sun (UV light) is the number-one cause of skin damage and ageing, not to mention skin cancers," says aesthetic doctor and brand founder, Dr David Jack.
There are two types of UV light – UVA and UVB. "UVA is the silent killer and accounts for over 95% of the rays that reach our skin," he adds. "It’s present all year round and it can penetrate through clouds and glass. It can penetrate much deeper into your skin compared to UVB rays." UVA is therefore a major cause of skin ageing, pigmentation and other skin changes.
UVB has a different effect. "These rays are stronger during the summer and as they are much shorter in wavelength they cannot penetrate the skin as well," says Dr Jack. "Instead, they cause more visible changes to the skin like redness and sunburn, but they also contribute to skin changes over time."
What is SPF?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor; it is a measure of the amount of protection from ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) that a sunscreen gives when applied to the skin at a thickness of 2mg/cm2.
SPFs are rated on a scale of 2 to 50+ based on the level of protection they offer, with 50+ offering the strongest form of UVB protection. In order to be as effective as the SPF rating suggests, sunscreen must be applied liberally to all exposed areas, then reapplied every two hours and immediately after swimming or towelling. For more information, take a look at The Sunscreen Fact Sheet, produced by the British Association of Dermatologists.
SPF protects against UVB, but what about UVA? Look for the letters "UVA" inside a circle – this is the European marking and means that the UVA protection is at least a third of the UVB value and meets EU recommendations. In the UK, UVA protection is sometimes measured by a star system, which goes up to five stars. The higher the star rating, the stronger the protection. It’s also important to look for the words “Broad Spectrum”, as this means the sunscreen will protect skin from both UVB and UVA light.
What Sun Protection Factor do I need?
"For adults with medium to tanned complexions, I would recommend using SPF 20 all year round in the UK and Northern Europe, and then stepping up to SPF 30 in peak season," says Abi Cleeve, founder of Ultrasun. "For fair complexions, it’s safer to stick to SPF 50, and kids should use SPF 30 as a base level and then increase to a 50 or 50+ when going somewhere hot."
The factor number relates to how much UVB a sunscreen filters out. "When it comes to UVA, you need to make sure your SPF product includes the words ‘broad spectrum’ as this means covering a broad spectrum of wavelengths," says Dr Jack.
What is the difference between a chemical and physical sunscreen?
"Chemical sunscreens are essentially organic chemicals that absorb UV rays and cause them to dissipate in the sun," says Dr Jack. This means the UV they absorb changes the chemical structure of the compound to stop it from penetrating deeper into the skin. “Physical sunscreens use salts of metals, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to reflect UV light away from the skin’s surface and stop it from penetrating deeper into the skin and causing damage," explains Dr Jack.
Both provide effective protection, but physical sunscreens can have a richer texture as they actively stop the sun penetrating the skin by creating a kind of shield. Modern versions still use zinc oxide, which is gentle and tolerated by most skin types, but the next-gen formulas are much easier to apply and no longer leave a white cast like in the past.
Chemical sunscreens work more like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays; they are often lighter and feel more like traditional serums or moisturisers. Advanced formulas contain many extra skin-boosting ingredients. The key is to find a formula your skin is happy with, then you’ll be more likely to apply each day.
How much SPF do I need to apply?
According to the British Association of Dermatologists, "when using lotions, as the bare minimum you should apply at least six full teaspoons (approximately 36 grams) to cover the body of an average adult, which is more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm and the face/neck (including ears), and just over one teaspoon to each leg, front of body and back of body." It’s also important to reapply regularly if you are in direct sunlight for a prolonged period of time. Don’t forget to apply your sunscreen 15-30 minutes before heading out, they don’t start working immediately.
Do I only need to wear SPF in the summer months?
Just because it may not be a gloriously sunny day does not mean you don’t need to wear protection. In fact, it’s best to get in the habit of adding an SPF into your routine all year round. This does not apply to your body since your clothing provides protection in the colder months.
"UVB rays are stronger in summertime, yes, but UVA is present all year round, so constant protection is necessary," advises Dr Jack. Make it part of your daily routine by choosing an SPF formula to apply on top of your skincare, but under your makeup.
Does SPF go out of date?
Yes! Applying out-of-date sunscreen can be as dangerous as applying none, as once the preservatives expire, the active ingredients they protect can start to decompose. Always check a product’s shelf life – the average is just 6-12 months. For extra security, use a permanent marker to write the start date on any opened bottles.
What is reef safe sunscreen?
Most of us are aware that protecting our skin from the sun’s harmful rays is essential. What we are all just discovering, however, is how damaging to the environment some sunscreen ingredients can be. It’s been revealed that some 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in coral reef areas every year.
Hawaii banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in 2018. The bill banning them is due to come into effect this year in an attempt to protect its beautiful coral reefs. Look for sunscreens labelled 'reef safe' or choose biodegradable mineral sunscreens, which use physical sun blockers such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
What is the best sunscreen for me?
With so many SPFs available, it can be rather overwhelming when it comes to finding your perfect formula. Since it’s a product you wear everyday, we recommend finding one that sits well under makeup and works for your skin type.
SPF for oily skin
Opt for a formula with a matte finish. A reef safe, mineral formula will protect skin and help to prevent unwanted shine throughout the day.
SPF for dry skin
Look for a hydrating SPF that contains ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ceramides to nourish skin all day.
SPF for mature skin
Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen that contains antioxidants and peptides as these will help to prevent damage.
SPF with a tint
If you’re a regular makeup wearer then it might make sense to look for a tinted SPF that will disguise imperfections and keep skin looking great.
SPF for deep skin tones
For those with deeper skin tones, Dr Ewoma, medical and cosmetic doctor and founder and CEO of SKNDOCTOR says to avoid purely physical sunscreens. "These formulations are renowned to be ashy on deeper skin tones," she says. "I generally advise my ethnic clients to use a chemical sunscreen or a mixture of both physical and chemical."
What about SPF for the body?
For warm summer days with more skin on show, we recommend an SPF 30 or above. Look for an easy to apply mist formula that offers reef safe protection and absorbs into the skin quickly without leaving any greasy residue. For those who need a sunscreen that will withstand an active day, try something labelled sweatproof and waterproof.
Sun safety tips
Over 70% of skin cancers are preventable, so it is crucial to follow sun safe measures. Skcin, The Karen Clifford Skin Cancer Charity, have come up with the five S’s of sun safety: Slip, Slop, Slap, Slide, Shade...
SLIP on a t-shirt
It’s important to keep skin covered in the sun and clothing can be an effective barrier. Closer weaves provide better protection, but you can choose light, cool fabrics such as cotton and linen so you stay cool. At the beach keep a kaftan or sarong close by to cover up with. In the UK, light T-shirts and cardigans are ideal. It’s also possible to buy clothing specially created for sun-protective properties. Made from a particularly close weave, it will be labelled with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor or UPF.
SLOP on SPF 30+ broad spectrum UVA sunscreen
It’s important to apply enough sunscreen. To get proper protection you need more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm and the face, including neck and ears, and one teaspoon to each leg, the front of the body and the back of the body. Chemical sunscreen doesn’t start working immediately, so apply about 15 minutes before you head out.
SLAP on a broad-brimmed hat
Hats are brilliant at providing sun protection for the face, neck and ears if you choose one with a wide brim. Baseball caps shade the face but leave the neck and ears exposed, so ensure you have adequate sunscreen on these areas.
SLIDE on quality sunglasses
Solar UV radiation can permanently damage our eyes. Prevent this by wearing quality sunglasses whenever you are outside. Look for the European CE mark, which indicates a safe level of protection, and those labelled with a high Eye Protection Factor (EPF) to ensure quality protection.
SHADE from the sun whenever possibles
Shade is a seriously underrated form of sun protection. It can provide a good barrier between the sun and our skin. It’s a good idea to seek shade at the hottest times of the day (between 11am and 3pm). Protect yourself from the damaging rays of the sun by combining all forms of sun protection. It’s not just sunbathing that puts you at risk, but anytime you are enjoying the outdoors. Ensure you take good care of your skin and never burn. For more detailed information on skin protection take a look at Skcin, The Karen Clifford Skin Cancer Charity, which is packed with great advice.
Swimming and sunscreen
Many sunscreens offer water resistant protection, however, as with all sunscreens you still need to reapply every two hours. Water, sweat and vigorous towelling can all remove your sunscreen, leaving your skin exposed and at risk of burning and damage. Ensure you dry skin thoroughly and reapply your sunscreen all over after every swim or dip in the paddling pool. Make sure you use the recommended amount for an adult – more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm and the face, including neck and ears, and one teaspoon to each leg, the front of the body and the back of the body.
The World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified radiation, from both the sun and artificial UV tanning devices, as carcinogenic to humans.
Sunbeds’ intense UV rays can be stronger than the midday sun in tropical regions, and as prolonged exposure to UV rays increases your risk of developing malignant melanoma, sunbeds are extremely damaging to skin.
In the UK it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to use a sunbed, because people who are frequently exposed to UV rays before the age of 25 are at greater risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Burning in childhood is linked to skin cancer in adulthood – the symptoms of skin damage can take up to 20 years to appear.
UV rays from sunbeds can also damage your eyes, causing problems such as irritation, conjunctivitis or cataracts, particularly if you do not wear goggles.
Sunbeds, sunlamps and tanning booths give out the same type of harmful radiation as sunlight. UVA rays make up about 95% of sunlight. These UVA rays are the ones that cause skin to age prematurely, so stay away from sunbeds to avoid wrinkled, coarse, leathery skin. UVB rays make up about 5% of sunlight and burn your skin.
The Health and Safety Executive, the independent regulator for health and safety in the UK issued advice on the health risks associated with UV tanning equipment, such as sunbeds, sunlamps and tanning booths.The recommendation is not to use UV tanning equipment if you:
-have fair, sensitive skin that burns easily or tans slowly or poorly
-have a history of sunburn, particularly in childhood
-have lots of freckles and red hair
-have lots of moles
-are taking medicines or using creams that make your skin sensitive to sunlight
-have a medical condition made worse by sunlight, such as vitiligo, a long-term skin condition caused by the lack of melanin in the skin
-have had skin cancer or someone in your family has had it
-already have badly sun-damaged skin
We recommend avoiding sunbeds to keep your skin strong and healthy, and suggest trying fake tan as an alternative. Formulas have come a long way since the orange, streaky days of yore and it is completely possible to fake a deep, natural glow.
How to self-tan
It’s clear that the sun causes irreparable damage to skin, but we all know how a tan can boost confidence, so why not try faking a sun-kissed glow? You’ll avoid UV damage while skin glows with health. Just follow our foolproof steps.1. Exfoliate
Dry patches are the number one cause of patchy fake tan, so rid your skin of any bumps with an exfoliating treatment in the shower before you tan. Buff it into skin in circular motions before gently showering off for ultra-smooth skin.2. Hydrate
Dry areas have a tendency to soak up fake tan, leaving you with tell-tale dark patches on knees and elbows. Ensure you moisturise dry areas with a light cream before applying your self-tan.3. Tools
Don’t use your hands to apply fake tan unless you fancy orange palms. Try using a mitt or gloves instead.4. Formula
If you are new to fake tan then try a buildable formula such as a gradual tan. To customise the colour simply apply a light layer each evening until you have the perfect shade, then continue to top up for an everlasting tan. If you want to find the perfect colour match to your skin-tone, then look for ranges with multiple shades so you can choose the one that suits you.5. Face
Don’t use a formula designed for the body on your face; it might wreak havoc on your complexion. Instead, invest in a face-specific formula that’s packed with skincare actives for more than a tan.
How to take care of your skin after a day in the sun
If you’ve been out in the sun all day, it’s important to cool and replenish your skin when you return home. Start by having a cool bath or shower and remove your sunscreen with gentle soap or shower gel. On your face use a gentle cleanser and remove with a muslin cloth soaked in cool water. Always drink water too, this will help replenish skin from the inside out. Next up, soothe and replenish your body with a specially formulated after sun, which will cool and refresh skin. To replenish your complexion, use a deeply hydrating after sun, look for ingredients such as nourishing vitamin E and soothing aloe vera.