Spoiler alert I think sunscreen is!
Sunscreen is one of a few things that can prevent the signs of ageing but more importantly can help prevent skin cancer (when used correctly).
A broad-spectrum SPF provides protection from UVA (usually associated with ageing) and UVB (traditionally associated with burning). A broad-spectrum SPF will help prevent damage from both types of ultraviolet radiation.
What to look for in a sunscreen
On bottles of sun protection marketed for the western markets, you should see two rating systems:
- the sun protection factor (SPF) which relates to UVB protection – I usually go for a minimum of 30 for everyday use. This rating refers to your ability to stay out in the sun without burning, generally the higher the number, the longer you can stay out.
- the star system which relates to UVA protection (this can usually be found on the back of the bottle) – I typically go for a minimum of 4/5 stars.
- In mainly Asian SPFs you will have an SPF number followed by a PA rating (one to four ‘+’), the PA rating is the protection grade against UVA radiation, the more crosses, the higher the level of protection.
The different types
- Physical sun protection – these will contain active minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These form a physical barrier on the skin and reflect the UV radiation away from the skin. The product will also absorb some of the UV radiation.
- Chemical sun protection – these can contain compounds such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone. These work by converting the UV radiation to heat and then releasing that heat away from the skin. However, given a chemical sunscreen needs to interact with the proteins in your skin to work. You should consider how many layers of products will be under the sunscreen so that it is still effective.
- Combination or hybrid sun protection – contains elements of both physical and chemical sunscreens.
I prefer physical sun protection you can usually apply these and go straight out of the door, with chemical sunscreen SPFs, you should wait about 20 minutes before exposure to the sun to ensure it dries down properly and forms an even layer. The main downside with physical sunscreens is the white or blue/purple cast they can leave – which on dark skin can look horrible – some are better than others, so it is just a case of trial and error.
How much to apply
Generally speaking, about a teaspoon of sunscreen should be used, this amount should cover your face and neck (don’t forget your eyelids!) In my opinion multitasking products that also contain sun protection do not work as well. The margin for error (e.g. not applying enough product) is higher than just using a standalone sunscreen to perform that role. For example, a moisturiser or cosmetic product that also contains sunscreen it would be unlikely that you would apply the recommended teaspoon. In these cases, you should also use sunscreen to ensure you are adequately protected.
How often to reapply
If you are out and about all day in the sun, generally sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours – as the sun and sweat will impact your protection. If you are indoors all day, then you can reduce this to times when there is exposure to the sun, e.g. sat near a window, going outside, etc. You mustn’t touch areas where sunscreen has been applied, so it is removed or rubbed off.
I am personally very sceptical about once a day application sun protection – I am not sure that it would offer a consistent level of protection without reapplication.
The British Skin Foundation has useful information on its website for the BSF about sun protection and prevention and detection of skin cancer.
If you are interested in reading reviews on sun protection I have used, please click here.
Do you have any views on using sunscreen? Or perhaps you have a personal favourite product? Let me know in the comments below.