Sun Cream Explained

The summer holidays are nearly here and whether you are going away or just spending the sometime in the garden or outdoors, staying protected in the sun is crucial. Even on the cloudiest of days, the sun’s rays can still be present, and you could be exposed to the sun’s damaging UVA and UVB rays.

What are UVA and UVB rays?

UVA and UVB are types of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Both types have been linked to skin cancer.

The UVB rays are responsible for skin reddening and sunburn. It is also the main culprit for skin cancer.

Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays penetrate deeper into your skin and are responsible for tanning. They are associated with skin ageing, as well as skin cancer. UVA rays penetrates the skin more deeply and can even penetrate through window glass.

Sun creams with a UVA protection will help defend the skin against ageing and potentially skin cancer and a sunscreen with a high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) will help block UVB rays and prevent the skin from burning, and in turn damage that can cause skin cancer.

What does SPF mean?

The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) gives an indication of the amount of protection sun creams offer against UVB rays. It gives an indication of how much longer skin that’s covered with the sun cream takes to redden in response to UV, compared with skin that isn’t protected by sun cream.

Rated on a scale from 2 to 50+ (the higher the number, the stronger the protection), it tells you how much longer your skin will take to turn red in response to UVB. For example, if you normally burn after 30 minutes without sunscreen, an SPF 30 will protect you for 30 times longer, which is 15 hours.

Which sun cream should I buy?

When buying sunscreen, you should look for one that protects you from both types of UV rays. Sunscreens will contain an UVA star rating on the packaging; the stars range from 0 to 5 and indicate the percentage of UVA radiation absorbed by the sunscreen in comparison to UVB. It is important to choose a high SPF as well as a high UVA protection e.g. a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 with UVA rating of 4 or 5 stars is considered a good standard of sun protection.

Protection SPF
Low protection SPF 6 and SPF 10
Medium protection SPF 15, SPF 20 and SPF 25
High protection SPF 30 and SPF 50
Very high protection SPF 50+

How much sun cream should I apply?

Research has shown that most people apply less than half of the amount required to provide the level of protection indicated on the packaging. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends at least 35ml for the total body, that is around seven teaspoons; one for the face/head and neck, one for each arm and each leg, and one each for your front and your back.

Always remember if you don’t apply enough sun cream your level of protection is drastically reduced. Apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before going into the sun and remember to reapply every couple of hours or immediately after swimming or perspiring.

Sunscreen for babies and children

Children under six-months-old should be kept out of direct strong sunlight and should stay in the shade. They should also wear a hat and long-sleeved clothing to help keep skin covered.

If your little ones are older than six months, make sure they cover up with suitable clothing, stay out of the sun from 11:00 to 15:00 and wear SPF 30 or higher on exposed skin such as the face, shoulders and neck.

How to protect yourself from the sun

Avoid the sun during peak hours; generally between 10:00am and 16:00pm and remember that water, snow, sand and concrete all reflect light and can increase the risk of sunburn.

Wear sun protective clothing; shirts with long sleeves, sunglasses and hats

Use sunscreen; apply generously and reapply every two hours

Apply to dry skin 15 minutes before you go outdoors and use it on all exposed areas such as neck, top of feet, ears and top of head. Apply a lip balm with an SPF of at least 30 to your lips.

By Sarah Anglim at 12 Jun 2019

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