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SPF Decoded

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While we all know we should, how much do we actually understand about the significance of wearing sunscreen? Read on for the lowdown.

The Science


First things first, what are we protecting ourselves from? UV radiation from the sun is transmitted in three wavelengths. UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC doesn’t penetrate the earth’s atmosphere, so we only really need to protect against UVA and UVB. An easy way to remember the difference between the two, is that UVA rays are associated with ageing, while UVB rays are responsible for burning. Next up, it’s important to note that there are in fact two types of sunscreen. “Sun protection products contain chemical or physical filters,” explains Abi Cleeve, Managing Director at Ultrasun. Chemical filters (look for oxybenzone or avobenzone on the label) are like sponges that mop up harmful UV rays, while physical filters, containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, create an actual barrier that blocks UV rays out. Look for products that do both and that offer broad spectrum – that’s high SPF and a UVA filter of 85% or above. We love Ultrasun Very High 50+ SPF Face Anti Pigmentation Treatment.

What the SPF?


You might think you know what you’re getting with your sunscreen, but do you know what you’re really getting protection from? SPF (or Sun Protection Factor) is a measure of how well a sunscreen protects skin from UVB rays and are rated on a scale of 6-50+ based on the level of protection they offer. “For adults with medium to tanned complexions, I would recommend using SPF20 [all year round] in the UK and Northern Europe and then stepping up to SPF30 in peak season. But, for fair complexions, it’s safer to stick to SPF50,” says Abi. “For kids, use SPF30 as a base level and then increase to a 50 or 50+ when going somewhere hot.” Shiseido Wet Force Expert Sun Aging Protection Lotion SPF30 is a great go-to as it provides powerful dual protection with sophisticated technology that only becomes more efficient when exposed to water or perspiration.

A more is more approach


According to a recent survey by the British Association of Dermatologists, 8 out of 10 people in the UK fail to apply sunscreen properly. For optimum protection, heed the guidelines and use 6-8 teaspoons (35ml) per application – that works out roughly as more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen for each arm and the face/neck, and just over one teaspoon for each leg, front, and back of the body. And that’s every two hours. “It is vital to apply sunscreen indoors, 15-30 minutes before sun exposure” stresses Abi, “up to 60% of protection can be lost if applied in direct sunlight.” Apply top-to-toe and then toe-to-top to ensure you don’t miss any bits. Products such as Coola’s Sport Continuous Spray SPF30 Pina Colada make it easier to protect hard-to-reach areas.

Always read the label


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. A survey in 2013 revealed that 57% of Brits were wearing out-of-date sunscreen, so 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. Don’t forget to look for protection with added antioxidants (i.e. vitamins A, C and E) to ensure you have protection from infra-red and environmental pollution as well, and finally, a sunscreen should be fragrance free, as fragrance can be drying for the skin.

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1 Comment
  • Kate
    September 1, 2017

    Wow, I didn’t realise that there were so many pitfalls in sun care!!! Feeling more clued up and ready to purchase for the next vacation.