Safety in the Sun: A Guide to Sunscreen

Posted on Jun 14 2017 - 9:05am by Samantha Clark
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With holiday season almost in full-swing and temperatures set to soar, it’s important you know how to keep yourself protected in the sun. We recently spoke with Genevieve Osborne, a Dermatologist for Bupa UK, who shared her advice for staying safe in the sun with us.

 How does your sunscreen work? (SPF, UVA, UVB)

Sunscreens work by filtering the amount of solar ultraviolet (UV) rays that reach the skin. They absorb and reflect the UV rays. There are two different types of sunscreens: physical and chemical. The chemical parts of a sun screen are usually colourless and work by absorbing the UV. The physical sunscreens are white in colour and reflect UV rays by forming a protective layer on the skin. Although these days you’ll find most sunscreens contain both chemical and physical filters that work to protect the skin.

The sun produces two types of UV that reach the skin: UVA and UVB. Each of them can lead to skin cancer developing, so it’s important to protect yourself properly when you’re out in the sun. Most sunscreens contain filters to stop UVB and UVA rays damaging your skin.

Too much UV exposure can affect your health in different ways. You might notice this most through sunburn (when your skin goes red), but it can also impact your immune system and eyes. Sunburn is most damaging to the skin though; as is long-term, repeated UV exposure that doesn’t necessarily burn the skin.

The strength of UVB filters are graded according to the SPF (‘sun protection factor’), ranging from SPF 10 (mild) through SPF 30 (strong) to SPF 50+ (super strong). Generally, experts advise on using a sunscreen of the minimum strength of SPF 30. This is because of most people tend to apply their sunscreen too thinly, which reduces the strength of it. To achieve the SPF strength that’s shown on the label, the average adult will need a minimum of six teaspoons of sunscreen to cover their whole body.

How does the SPF affect how long you’ll be safely protected from the sun for?

You should reapply your sunscreen every few hours, as the protective effect tends to wear off through sweating or swimming. In principle, the stronger the SPF, the longer you can avoid burning for. SPF 30 will allow you to stay in the sun for 30 times longer than it would usually take you to burn. But you should still reapply your sunscreen every few hours, no matter what the SPF is, as whilst it is important to avoid sunburn, UV can also harm the skin without causing burning.

How does UV affect different people and how important is it to find protection to suit this?

How easily people burn varies. For example, people with light skin, fair or red hair and freckles, often burn very easily in the sun and may not develop a tan. Others with naturally darker skin are unlikely to burn as easily.  It’s important to find the right level of protection for your skin type because people who burn more easily are more prone to developing skin cancer.

In most cases, a SPF of at least 30 should be sufficient to cover most skin types in most sun conditions.

Do areas of the body feel the impact of the sun differently?

Areas which are more prominent and sun-facing are most likely to burn, like your ears, nose, shoulders and the back of your neck. There are two different types of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma. These areas are more commonly affected by (non-melanoma) skin cancer.

Paler areas of skin that aren’t exposed to UV as often  are also likely to burn if you’re not well protected from the sun.

Are our legs, because they’re covered more often, more likely to burn more than our arms?

They burn more easily because they’re usually paler in colour that our arms. This is because usually, arms are more regularly exposed to the sun.

Do we require a different type of sun cream for our faces?

No, there is no reason to apply a different type of sunscreen to your face than to any other area of the body.

Do you have any advice to our readers that are prone to breakouts and find sun cream too greasy?

There are plenty of different types of sunscreens that you can buy; they come in lotions, foams and stick and gel formulations. Gels are usually colourless and feel less greasy.

Some sunscreen brands have products especially developed for children that contain fewer chemical UV filters and more physical UV filters as these may be better infants who tend to have thinner skin than adults.

If you have acne, you should look for a sunscreen where the label states it is ‘non-comedogenic’ as this won’t block your pores.

We’d like to thank Genevieve Osborne for sharing her insight into staying safe in the sun. If you are worried about anything, it’s important to get it checked out. A Dermatologist can help diagnose your condition and recommend suitable treatment.

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