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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.


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 Sun Protection Factor Do I Need?

The factor number relates to how much UVB a sunscreen filers out and not UVA. “When it comes to UVA, only certain ingredients are effective, so you need to make sure your SPF says ‘broad spectrum’ as this means covering a broad spectrum of wavelengths,” says Dr Jack.

“The higher the SPF, the more UVB rays it will block. “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.”

What Is The Difference Between A Chemical And Physical Sunscreen?

There has been a lot of chatter about chemical and physical sunscreens in the press, but what’s the difference? “Chemical sunscreens are essentially organic chemicals (or carbon-based compounds) 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 in to 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 to stop it from penetrating deeper into the skin and causing damage,” explains Dr Jack.

Both provide effective protection, but they’re often formulated differently in terms of texture. Physical sunscreen tend to be thicker in texture and can cause white cast whereas chemical ones are often more lighter weight and less comedogenic.


How Much SPF Do I Need To Apply?

According to a survey by the British Association of Dermatologists, eight out of 10 people in the UK fail to apply sunscreen properly. For optimum protection, heed the guidelines and use six-to-eight teaspoons (35ml) per application. That works out roughly as more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen to cover your face and neck. For the body, it’s around half a teaspoon per arm and one teaspoon for each leg and the front and back of your body.

It’s also important to reapply regularly if you are in direct sunlight for a prolonged period of time. Also, don’t forget to apply your 15-30 minutes before heading out.

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.

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. A survey in 2013 revealed that 57% of Brits were wearing out-of-date sunscreen. 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 formulas with 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.


What Is The Best One For My Skin Type?

With so many SPFs available, it can be rather overwhelming when it comes to finding the perfect one for you. As it’s a product you wear everyday, we recommend finding one that sits well under makeup and works for your skin type.

The Best SPF For Oily Skin

Opt for a formula with a matte finish, such as By Terry’s UV Base Sunscreen Cream Broad Spectrum SPF50. It has a lightweight texture and helps to prevent unwanted shine throughout the day. It’s a great primer under makeup too.

The Best SPF For Dry Skin

A hydrating SPF like Paula’s Choice Resist Hydrating Fluid SPF50 will really help to lock in moisture all day.

The Best SPF For Sensitive Skin

If you’ve got sensitive skin which is prone to breaking out, REN’s Clean Screen Mineral SPF30 uses a gentle and non-irritating formula that won’t block pores.

The Best SPF For Fair Skin Tones

If you’ve got fair skin and want something that will also give you more of a glow, Drunk Elephant’s Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense SPF30 offers a healthy-looking tint. 


The Best 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 of a mixture of both physical and chemical. I can really vouch for the Shiseido Clear Stick UV Protector SPF 50+ for people of colour.”

What About SPF For The Body?

As mentioned, an SPF for your body is not necessary every day as your clothing will provide protection most of the year. For those warmer days with more skin on show, you will need to apply protection. We’d still recommend an SPF 30 or above, but for the most part, it’s about finding a formula or texture that you like.

Coola’s Eco-Lux SPF30 Tropical Coconut Sunscreen Spray provides protection with just a few spritz’ and absorbs into the skin quickly without leaving any greasy residue. Caudalie’s Milky Sun Spray SPF 50 not only provides protection but hydration too. So much so, you can swap your usual body moisturiser for this one and still have super soft skin. For those who like a richer, creamy texture, try Institut Esthederm’s Adaptasun Body Lotion

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1 Comment
  • Avatar
    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.