There are many sun-protection products, including lotions, mousses, sprays, gels and creams. Knowing which is best for you, or your family, can be confusing.
How does sunscreen work?
Sunscreens either block UV light or absorb it. Blocking products are sometimes called physical sunscreens. They contain minerals, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which reflect light away from the skin. Sunblocks leave a white sheen on the skin. Products that absorb UV light are sometimes known as chemical sunscreens. These contain chemicals that absorb UV radiation.
What does sunscreen protect us from?
Sun products protect us from ultraviolet rays. Over-exposure to these can cause skin damage and skin cancers.
Two types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation reach Earth from the sun, UVA and UVB. In daylight, UVA is always present, and it penetrates both cloud and glass. This is why you still need sunscreen when it's cloudy, or if you're sitting by a sunny window.
UVB is strongest at the height of summer, but you can burn all year round.
What is SPF?
All sunscreens have a sun protection factor (SPF). This is a number that indicates the level of protection a sunscreen provides against UVB rays (as opposed to without protection).
How long a product allows you to stay in the sun without getting sunburnt depends on your skin type. If you have fair skin and burn after 10 minutes with no protection, SPF 15 will protect you for 15 times that – so, 150 minutes. But if you have darker skin, and burn after 20 minutes, the same product will protect you for 300 minutes.
It’s generally recommended to use a sunscreen of at least SPF 15, in addition to taking other protective measures, such as staying in the shade and wearing suitable clothing.
When to use a 30+ sunscreen
Because their skin is more vulnerable to sunburn, babies and young children need SPF30+ products. You should also use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF30 if you have fair skin.
What is the UVA star rating?
Most sunscreens carry a UVA star rating, ranging from 0 to 5. This is a measure of how effectively the product absorbs UVA rays. The lowest recommended UVA star rating is 4.
What’s the proper way to use sunscreen?
Many of us don't apply sunscreens thickly enough or often enough. Here are some sunscreen tips, to help ensure you're properly protected:
• Use products with a minimum SPF of 15 and a UVA rating of 4
• Children and people with fair skin should use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30
• Apply sunscreen generously to cover all exposed areas of the skin
• Have someone else apply cream to your back
• Don’t forget to apply cream to your ears and, for men, to bald patches or areas of thinning hair
• Reapply sun cream at least once every two hours, or more frequently if you're in and out of water, or sweating heavily
• Use a high SPF when swimming or exercising
• Cover up with long sleeves and a hat. No sunscreen provides 100% protection
• Protect your eyes with sunglasses
Speak to your pharmacist for further advice on sun products.
• To help keep your skin safe, use high factor products (SPF 30 and above) for babies, young children, and if you have fair skin
• Apply sun cream thickly, and every two hours or as recommended by the product
• Cover up whenever possible