Staying Safe in the Sun – How to Protect Your Skin
Whether you’re going somewhere hot for a holiday, sunning yourself in the back garden or just going out and about, it’s important to protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun’s rays…
Even with our notoriously unreliable British weather, forecasters have predicted something of a heat wave over the coming months – with up to 3 months of sun. That’s sounds great but it also means our skin is going to be subjected to that much more sunlight… While most of us think we know the basics of sun protection, we still see a large number of people with sun-damaged skin that could easily have been avoided in the first place. So, in this article we’re going to share some of the lesser-known skincare facts to help you to stay safe in the sun!
Choose the right SPF level
Many people think that the SPF or “sun protection factor” indicates how strong the sun cream is. But what it actually refers to is how long the cream will keep you protected from Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. The number we find on sun cream indicates how much longer you should be able to stay in the sun before burning. To work out the correct SPF for you, you first need to calculate how long it would normally take you to burn in the sun (in minutes) if you weren’t wearing any sun cream…
This number is then multiplied by the SPF number to tell you how many minutes you should be able to stay out in the sun without burning when wearing the sun cream. So, if you would normally burn in 10 minutes without any protection, with factor 30 sun cream you should be able to stay outside (theoretically) for 300 minutes.
We recommend factor 30 or higher as that’s adequate for normal beach/pool use. Beware when using sunscreen with higher SPFs over 30 as they tend to give people a false sense of security. Additionally, you’re also subjecting your skin to higher doses of chemicals with the stronger creams… Also, research shows that sunscreen with values above SPF 50 provide no more protection than those below that number…
Choose a sunscreen with both UVA and UVB coverage
Traditionally, people have been more concerned about Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays than Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays because these tend to impact the surface of the skin more, and this is where most skin cancers occur.
However, we also need to be careful about UVA because it causes damage on a deeper level:
leading to skin aging and wrinkling. Additionally, new research shows that this UVA damage also
contributes to, and may even cause, skin cancer.
This is why it’s a good idea to make sure your sun cream provides broad spectrum protection against both types of damaging ultraviolet light.
Know what’s in your sun screen
A clear understanding of the ingredients in your sun block is important because some of the chemicals used are potential hormone disruptors, allergens or are just plain unnecessary…
Retinoids (a form of vitamin A) are a common ingredient in sun creams. Unfortunately, lab studies have shown that retinoids can actually increase the risk of skin cancer. They have also been linked to birth defects in pregnant women.
Look out for a sun cream that is PABA-free. PABA stands for Para-aminobenzoic acid: a long-term favourite ingredient in sunscreen that can cause allergic reactions in some people. High doses of PABA have also been linked to severe liver toxicity.
Another common ingredient to avoid is Oxybenzone which has been linked to hormone disruption and may also cause photo allergic reactions.
Sun creams are often combined with insect repellents but, although on the surface this may seem to make sense, it isn’t necessarily a good thing: the insect repellent can reduce the effectiveness of the sunscreen, and the sunscreen can enhance the toxicity of the insect repellent. So if you’re going somewhere hot where there are a lot of mosquitos or other hungry insects, experts recommend using two separate products.
If you’re going to be swimming or sweating a lot, it’s important to choose a water-resistant sun cream. But remember that there’s no such thing as a 100% waterproof sunblock, so make sure to reapply the cream often, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Finding a sunscreen that suits you and that you won’t mind wearing will take some trial and error. Sunscreens come in different consistencies and fragrances so try different brands and types of sunscreen. Sport versions tend to be gooey and stronger smelling than the daily versions.
Spray on, roll on, powder, stick and lotion types are all available, but experts warn that the spray on and powder sunscreens may cause irritation to the lungs due to the higher risk or inhalation. Additionally, these two types may provide less effective coverage of your skin when compared to liquid sun creams, so start your search for the right sunscreen there.
If you wear a daily moisturising cream, you’ll know that many include some degree of sun protection. However, if you’d like complete coverage, you’ll need to supplement your moisturiser with a dedicated sunscreen. Apply the moisturiser first and then add the sunscreen after that to maximise absorption and enhance protection.
Avoid using sun cream on babies under 6 months. Experts say that keeping to the shade is the best option for babies – whether that’s natural shade or just from an umbrella. If you feel you can’t avoid using sunscreen for babies, please consult with a doctor first.
When choosing sunblock for children or for people with sensitive skin, consider mineral-based UV filters such as titanium and zinc. These are considered among the safest and are the least likely to result in an allergic reaction. That said, these mineral-based solutions tend to be less effective than chemical-based versions.
Before applying sun cream on children, spot test it by applying a small amount on a particular area and waiting to see if your child has any adverse reactions.
Apply sunscreen liberally
Applied properly, sunscreen tends to run out quickly, so make sure you have enough. During an extended outing to the beach you should be using between a quarter to half of a 240ml/8-ounce bottle.
When you apply sunscreen, apply a golf ball sized amount (about enough to fill a shot glass) but apply it little-by-little, rubbing gently into the skin in layers until you have a thorough coating. For difficult to reach areas like the back and shoulders, get a friend to help.
Cover the most vulnerable areas of the body first, starting with the head. Apply sun cream over the entire face and forehead, paying special attention to the nose, ears and the back of the neck. Other vulnerable areas include the backs of the arms, knees and the top of your feet, especially if wearing sandals or flip-flops.
Put on your sunscreen in advance
Try to get your sunscreen applied fully at least 30 minutes before you go out into the sun.
Reapply often, especially if you’re sweating or swimming and drying off with a towel. Err on the side of caution and reapply more frequently than the directions on the bottle.
Throw away old sunscreen – anything over 3 years old will be much less effective than something freshly-purchased. Also, any bottle that’s been left open for a long time may have been exposed to germs, so throw that out, too.
Finally, remember to stay safe and have fun wherever you’re sunning yourself this summer. A little common sense and a bottle of good quality sun cream will keep you and your skin healthy and feeling youthful!