The matter of sun care can be a little overwhelming. Shelves, nay aisles, of bottles claiming all sorts of sun protection with additional benefits – from boosting your tanning ability to toning your skin – can make even the most diligent holiday maker’s head spin. But when we take it back to basics, what do we really need in our UV-defending lineup?
While sun protection may be partly about getting a nice, even tan there’s also the matter of being safe and preventing sun-related skin cancers. So here’s our guide to staying protected in the sun, while still stepping off the plane adorning a sun-kissed glow…
How much to apply
The amount you need to apply is different for everyone (depending on height and ergo surface area), but the general rule is that two milligrams for every square centimetre of exposed skin is an ideal amount – or a shot glass for your entire body. Britain’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence claims that most people apply 25-75% of the needed amount, leaving them exposed and less protected than they think – so next time you go to apply, make sure you have a shot glass to hand!
How often to re-apply
There are two things to think about here: how long you need to leave between application and sun exposure and reapplication. To address the former, you want all those sun protection ingredients to be fully absorbed and ‘in position’ when you go out in the sun. With this in mind, it’s best to apply your sun cream a good 20-30 minutes before going outdoors. As for reapplication… There are some lotions out there that boast a once-a-day application, but for everything else the advice is to top up every two hours and also after swimming, toweling yourself off or sweating.
The easiest way to apply sun cream? Totally naked. The bits that burn are often missed due to us applying protection with a bikini or swim suit on. Stripping off and going for full body coverage – as you would with fake tan – means you’re more likely to avoid burning any sensitive parts. ‘Dry cotton is an SPF 10, while wet is merely SPF 3’, explains Clare O’Connor, Boots suncare expert, so full coverage is wise even if you have a cover up on.
What’s more, UVA rays (the ones that lead to ageing and cause damage in the deeper skin layers) can penetrate glass. So if you have a office with a great view or drive a lot then a photo-stable SPF as part of your daily regime is a wise move. ‘Sunscreen should be part of your daily routine 365 days a year. The number one mistake I see is people using sunscreen only when they go to the beach or spend time outside,’ says Cheryl Gustafson, MD, chief dermatology resident at Emory University and spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation. Sun protection isn’t just for holidays essentially, so incorporating a daily SPF into your regime is an essential step in protecting your skin.
Check the expiry date
SPF isn’t the cheapest beauty buy, but when it’s expired it’s ability to protect you has evaporated – bin it. The Mayo Clinic advise that if you can’t find an expiration date you may want to write the date you bought it on the bottle and that a good rule of thumb is that if you’ve had a bottle for more than three years or it has been exposed to high temperatures for prolonged periods then it’s likely to have spoiled. Also, if you notice a change in colour, consistency (separation) or smell then you may want to refresh your supplies.
The difference between UVA and UVB rays
This is a key thing to look out for when shopping for sun protection, as many simply protect your skin against UVB rays and do nothing when it comes to UVA. The difference? UVA rays damage your skin and lead to ageing, while UVB are the rays that make you burn.
Here are 5 of our favourite sun creams at the moment…[gprslider id=9851]
If you want more insight into what sun care, SPF, UVA/UVB and broad spectrum are all about then listen to The Beauty Podcast with Emma G featuring Abi Cleeve, Ultrasun UK’s MD.