We all know that we should wear sunscreen, but not everyone is aware of the reasons why sunscreen should be incorporated into your daily skincare routine – even on the days when the sun isn’t shining.
Wearing sunscreen regularly is one of the best — and simplest— ways to protect your skin from harmful UV damage from the sun’s rays, help to prevent skin cancer and maintain a youthful appearance.
But finding the right sunscreen can be a challenge, with packaging adorned with star ratings, SPF factors and buzzwords such as ‘zinc oxide’ and ‘minerals’. We’ve cut away the jargon and put together our no-nonsense guide to the benefits of regularly applying sunscreen and why it should be your go-to product before stepping foot in the sun.
Why wear sunscreen?
The most obvious reason is to prevent our skin from burning and turning red, inflamed and painful – and that’s a pretty good reason in itself.
The way sunscreen stops our skin from frying is by blocking the ultraviolet radiation from the sun hitting our skin in the form of UVA and UVB rays.
Research over the last few decades has concluded that both these types of rays can cause skin cancer. Sunscreen effectively blocks UVA and UVB rays from penetrating our skin reduces the risk of melanomas developing.
UVA and UVB – what’s the difference?
Our sun emits UVA and UVB rays, as well as a third type known as UVC. UVC rays are the most damaging, but do not penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere and cannot cause us harm.
- UVA: This type of radiation has a long wavelength and can penetrate the skin, resulting in premature ageing, wrinkles and liver spots. UVA rays also have the potential to cause some skin cancers – and can burn your skin even through clouds and windows.
- UVB: UVB rays have a shorter wavelength, but higher energy levels than UVA, which means they damage the top levels of the skin, causing wrinkles. Roughly 5% of UVB rays make it to the Earth’s surface, and it’s these types of rays that cause most skin cancers. UVB rays are filtered by clouds and cannot burn you through glass.
What SPF should I wear?
The NHS recommends choosing a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30.
SPFs are rated from 2 to 50+, depending on the level of protection they offer from UVB rays. A rating of 50+ will provide the highest level of protection and is recommended for babies, young children and those with fair skin.
What does the ‘star rating’ mean?
While most people understand SPF ratings, there is another rating on the bottle that you should be aware of. The star ratings rank from 1 to 5 and measure the protection the sunscreen will give you from UVA rays – and the more stars displayed, the greater the protection.
It’s best to look for a sunscreen that offers both a high SPF and star rating – these types of sunscreen are often referred to as ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreens.
It’s also wise to check the bottle for another certification. If it shows the letter UVA within a circle, then you have the peace of mind that the lotion meets EU standards for sunscreen.
Most of us do not apply enough sunscreen to fully protect our skin. If it’s applied too thinly, it won’t offer the correct levels of protection and could still cause sunburn. Here’s how to apply sunscreen for maximum protection from the sun’s rays:
- Adults should aim to use two tablespoons for good coverage of their body if wearing a swimsuit. It will be most effective when applied 30 minutes before going out in the sun.
- Remember to cover all areas of the body, including the tops of the ears, which are often missed. If you have thinning hair, apply sunscreen to your scalp, or better still wear a hat or cap.
- Re-apply sunscreen liberally every two hours if you’re planning to spend long enough in the sun to burn.
- If you are swimming you should add more sunscreen after leaving the water. Even if the sunscreen claims to be ‘water resistant’ it may be rubbed off after towel drying.
Keeping children safe in the sun
Taking extra care with babies and children is very important as their skin is sensitive – and repeated exposure to UVA and UVB rays could cause them health issues in later life. Use a sunscreen specially formulated for babies and toddlers that is kind to their skin while offering an SPF of 50+. This La Roche-Posay Anthelios Dermo-Baby Sun Cream from Boots ticks all the boxes is also enriched with naturally derived shea butter.
It’s advisable to keep babies out of strong sunlight and ensure there is plenty of shade for children who are playing in the sun. Keep them covered up with a rash vest that offers SPF 50+ protection so they can enjoy the summer sun safely. Check out this toddler’s sunsuit that offers a protective layer that blocks out over 99% of the sun’s harmful rays.
Which is the best sunscreen?
These days you don’t have to spend a fortune to get the best sun protection for your family. ASDA offer an own-brand formula with an SPF of 50 and a 5-star UVA rating for just £4.
If you find a lotion or cream too heavy on your skin, opt for a sunscreen spray that feels lighter when applied – yet still offers the same high levels of protection.
One of our favourite products is the fragrance-free Bondi Sands Lotion, which is fast-absorbing and enriched with vitamin E to keep your skin feeling soft and supple. It’s water-resistant for up to 4 hours – ideal if you want to cool off by jumping in the pool on holiday!