Expert Topic by Joanne Rendell
The importance of SPF
Written by Skin Therapist Joanne Rendell
Wearing SPF every day – regardless of the weather outside – is the best way to protect your skin and keep it healthy. This is because UV (ultraviolet) radiation is present every day, and over-exposure to the sun can cause all sorts of serious damage to your skin, from premature ageing to different forms of skin cancer. As a nation we are becoming more aware of the need to wear SPF every day, but there is still room for improvement and education. Over 400,000 search queries about sun protection are made every summer.
National Sun Awareness Week (3rd-9th May), led by the British Association of Dermatologists, aims to raise awareness of the dangers associated with excess sun exposure, and share skin cancer prevention and detection advice. If skin cancer is detected early, there is a better chance it can be cured. Our awareness of sun safety can influence others’ thoughts too, protecting more people from skin problems.
Skin Cancer: An Overview
According to the British Skin Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK – and rates continue to rise. At least 100,000 new cases are now diagnosed every year, and the disease kills over 2,500 people each year in the UK. That’s seven people every single day. While most of us enjoy basking in the sun, and tend to feel more confident/attractive with a bit of a tan, the facts are clear. Overexposure to UV radiation in sunlight causes damage to your skin, which in turn increases the risk of skin cancer.
While all types of skin are susceptible to sun damage, the risk is higher if you’re naturally paler. Having a tan doesn’t increase protection – and you should never let your skin burn, whatever your skin type or colour. It is recommended that we stay in the shade during the hottest time of the day (between 11am and 3pm) from March-October.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can spread to other organs in the body. The most common sign is the appearance of a new mole, or a change in an existing mole. Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to a group of cancers that develop slowly in the upper layers of the skin. Exposure to UV radiation from the sun plays a major role in the development of both these types of skin cancer. Wearing an effective sunscreen, every day throughout the year, is a key way to help protect your skin.
There’s more bad news: the sun prematurely ages your skin. Photoageing (also known as sun damage, solar damage or photo damage) is caused by repeated exposure to UV radiation. It’s different from chronological (intrinsic) ageing, which is down to time and genetics. Up to 90% of premature skin ageing is caused by sun exposure: think lines, wrinkles, sagging, dullness, dryness, redness and pigmentation. The good news is that you can limit this by using a daily sunscreen – and staying well away from sunbeds!
Which sunscreen is right for me?
Choosing the right sunscreen for your skin isn’t always straightforward, especially with so much choice available. Look out for broad spectrum formulations, which offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays. The former have a longer wavelength, and are associated with skin ageing. The latter have a shorter wavelength, and are associated with skin burning.
The next thing to consider is SPF (sun protection factor). Most dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, as this blocks around 97% of UVB rays. However, there is still a fair degree of confusion about how SPF really works. The SPF number is actually connected to how long the sun’s UV radiation would take to make your skin red (when using the product exactly as directed), versus the amount of time this would take without any sunscreen. So if you usually start to feel sunburned after five minutes of unprotected sun, an SPF30 – properly applied – should protect you for 30 x five minutes (i.e. two-and-a-half hours).
How much sunscreen should I apply?
Most of us simply aren’t applying enough! According to the British Association of Dermatologists, the bare minimum is at least two tablespoons to cover the body of an average adult if wearing a swimming costume. You should apply your sunscreen 15-30 minutes before exposure and reapply at least every two hours – more often if you’ve been swimming or sweating.
The other key considerations to take into account when choosing your sunscreen are type and texture. These days, there’s a huge range of formulations available, including gel, lotion, mist, mousse or cream. As their name suggests, physical or mineral sunscreens create a physical barrier, which acts like a shield to deflect the sun’s rays. These formulations tend to be thicker, but are a better choice for red, irritated or sensitive skin. Chemical sunscreens sink into the skin and absorb the sun’s rays before they penetrate and cause damage. They are often lighter than physical formulations, but because they turn energy into heat, they’re not recommended for post-procedure, sensitive or irritated skin.
Protect your eyes in the sun
A day out and about, or time spent on the beach, without the correct eye protection can cause temporary but painful burning to the surface of the eyes, similar to sunburn. Make sure you are wearing a sunscreen (SPF50+) that’s suitable for the eye area, wear good-quality sunglasses, and avoid looking directly at the sun.