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SUN PROTECTION 101: UNDERSTANDING SPF AND SUNSCREEN

SPF 15 versus SPF 50, chemical versus non-chemical… When it comes to sunscreen and SPF, there are plenty of questions to be answered. Lucky for you, we’re here to help clear things up a bit.



Understanding UV Rays


To understand SPFs, we must first understand the rays of the sun. The sun emits UV, or ultra violet, rays, of which there are two types – UVA and UVB.


UVA rays are responsible for skin ageing, UVB rays for skin tanning and burning. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, but both can cause changes to our cells and DNA that can result in pigmentation changes and ultimately skin cancer.

So it’s clear that we need to protect our skin from the sun. Yes, the sun on our skin feels great, and lots of us feel better with a tan – but even a light tan is actually a sign of skin damage. In the majority of cases, we won’t go on to develop skin cancer, but sadly, 100,000 people in the UK alone do. The vast majority of cases of skin cancer are caused by sun exposure.


Understanding SPF


SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a numbering system, which shows a sunscreen’s ability to protect against UVB. While SPF 15 is a good choice for most people, some may need more; in that case, we recommend a non-chemical sunscreen of SPF 25 for face that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

If you have sensitive skin, are taking medication that could increase your sensitivity to the sun, or plan to have prolonged exposure to the sun, even the highest SPF won’t be enough to fully protect your skin from the visible signs of sun damage. In situations like these, your best defense is to wear a hat and protective clothing.



There are two types of SPFs


  • Chemical SPFs - most regular SPFs are made using ingredients called oxybenzone, avobenzone and octinoxate. Chemical SPFs work by absorbing UV radiation into the chemical bonds that hold the oxybenzone etc molecules together. When these bonds absorb UV light, they begin to break down and release the UV radiation away from the skin in the form of heat.


  • Mineral SPFs - on the other hand, natural, or mineral, sunscreens contain ingredients such as naturally occurring zinc oxide and / or titanium oxide. These ingredients act as a physical barrier against UVA and UVB rays. Mineral SPF’s are often very thick, white creams that sit noticeably on the skin. (Think cricketers in the summer, with thick, white stripes of cream on their noses – these are mineral sunscreens.)


Benefits of Non-Chemical Sunscreen

When it comes to the type of sunscreen you choose, we recommend going the non-chemical route - such as “physical” blockers like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide - instead of chemical sunscreens. These not only help protect against sun damage, but also are less likely to cause breakouts and irritations.

And because they’re not able to penetrate your skin, non-chemical sunscreens stay on the surface and physically block the sun’s rays from entering.



What SPF should I wear?


Each one of us has different skin, and different skin needs. Wearing an SPF of 25 means that it will allow you to spend 25 times longer in the sun without burning, and this time is unique to all of us. The number rating, say SPF 25, refers to the protection it gives against UVB rays. The star rating you’ll also see on sun creams gives an indication of how well it protects against UVA rays, the higher the rating (up to five stars), the higher the protection.

Many of us have been on holiday with someone who will slap on the factor 15 and not burn all afternoon, whereas we sit there nursing sore, blistered skin after only an hour or so of sunbathing under the ‘protection’ of an SPF 25.


Different skin will react to different products and ingredients in different ways. Each person needs to find an SPF which works for their skin.

So we need to work out what our individual skin needs are and be sensible about it. If we decide not to wear an SPF, we must then take different steps to protect our skin.



How can I protect my skin if I don’t wear SPF?


If we don’t wear an SPF, there are things we can do to protect our skin from the sun’s rays:


  • Avoid direct exposure to the sun, especially when it’s at its strongest between 11am and 2pm

  • Be aware that the sun can still burn the skin on a cloudy day

  • Wear a wide brimmed hat to protect the face, scalp and hair

  • Wear good quality sunglasses that have the CE Mark and European Standard EN 1836:2005 quality markers

  • Wear loose fitting, long sleeved clothing to provide a physical barrier against the sun

  • Stay well hydrated, especially if you’re drinking alcohol


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© 2020 by Mona Youren

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