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 Skincare

Sunscreen

Written by: Becki Murray

Last Updated: 13 February 2024

Sunscreen is essential for protecting your skin. But what kind of sunscreen do you need, and how much protection should it offer? Do you need to worry about UVA as well as UVB? And must you really wear sun cream every day?

There really are so many questions when it comes to sun protection, despite sunscreen being such an integral part of all of our routines (as we like to always bang on about here at TTG). Luckily, all these questions and more are answered in our FAQs below, and if you haven’t found a sunscreen you actually like to wear just yet, we have the suggestions and advice you need to make the decision so much easier.

sun screen

What are UVA and UVB, and which do I need to worry about?

UVA and UVB are the two key kinds of ultraviolet rays, and you need to worry about both of them:

  • UVB rays. These rays will burn the surface of your skin if you give them the chance. You get UVB mostly from direct exposure to the sun, though some UVB also finds its way through clouds.
  • UVA rays. These rays have a longer wavelength, reach deeper into your skin, and they can break down the collagen and elastin that keep your skin firm and springy. UVA rays reach us all day every day, not just in the summer or when it’s sunny, but in boring old grey daylight, all year round. UVA rays also pass through glass, so if you are in the car a lot, or have a desk by the window, those damaging rays will reach you there, too, though you won’t get a tan through glass.

In fact, UVA and UVB rays work together to produce a tan. UVA darkens existing pigment in your skin, while UVB prompts your skin to produce more pigment. Both reactions are trying to protect the DNA in your skin from the damage that those UV rays are causing.

Do I really need to wear sunscreen when it’s not sunny?

Yes, you do need to wear sunscreen, even when it’s not sunny.

Here’s why. Up to 90 per cent of what we think of as the ‘signs of ageing’ — the wrinkles, the age spots, the rough texture — are due to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. As you’d imagine, being outside in the sun gives you that exposure to UV light — but so does the greyest of sunless daylight, even though the window in a building or a vehicle.

Why is broad-spectrum sun protection important?

Broad-spectrum means that a sunscreen blocks UVA rays as well as UVB rays. Broad-spectrum sun protection is important because both UVB rays and UVA rays can damage your skin.

What are the recommended SPF levels for effective sun protection?

The SPF — Sun Protection Factor — rating measures how much protection a sunscreen provides against UVB rays. The SPF rating shows approximately how many times longer it would take UVB rays to burn your skin with the sunscreen applied than to burn it without. For example, SPF 15 means it would take 15 times as long, and SPF 50 means 50 times as long.

Different health organizations recommend different minimum SPF levels. The NHS and Cancer Research UK recommend at least SPF 15, whereas the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) recommends SPF 30.

One thing you should know that’s not obvious from the SPF ratings: Though a higher SPF rating indicates greater protection, the increase is not linear. SPF 15 blocks around 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 blocks around 97% and SPF 50 blocks around 98%. There is no sunscreen that can block 100% of UVB rays.

Should sunscreen be used with retinoid treatments?

Yes, if you’re treating your skin with a retinoid, you should definitely use sunscreen to protect your skin. Retinoids such as retinol (available in over-the-counter treatments) or tretinoin (in prescription treatments) speed up cell turnover, which makes your skin more sensitive to the sun, so you need to protect it against sunburn, UV damage, and hyperpigmentation.

How does sunscreen help in preventing pigmentation?

Sunscreen can help prevent pigmentation by blocking UV rays from wreaking harmful effects on your skin. Broad-spectrum sunscreen with a suitably high SPF can block both UVA rays and UVB rays. This blocking prevents both the production of melanin, the pigment that gives colour to your skin, and the darkening of existing pigmentation, such as freckles or dark spots.

What type of sunscreen is suitable for sensitive skin?

If you have sensitive skin, look either for a chemical sunscreen specifically formulated for sensitive skin, such as an oil-free sunscreen, or for a physical sunscreen.

In general, physical sunscreens may suit you better if you have sensitive skin. But be aware that purely physical sunscreens a) shift off the skin more easily and b) don’t provide as thorough protection as combined sunscreens or chemical sunscreens.

How does sunscreen prevent skin ageing?

Sunscreen helps prevent skin ageing by preventing the UV rays from affecting your skin. The two main categories of sunscreens, physical sunscreens and chemical (UV-absorbing) sunscreens, keep out the UV rays in different ways:

  • Physical sunscreens. These are reflective sunscreens that literally shield your skin with a physical barrier that absorbs some of the light energy and bounces back the rest of the UV rays away from the skin. Sometimes called ‘sunblock’ or ‘mineral’ sunscreens, physical sunscreens contain ingredients such as finely milled titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
  • Chemical sunscreens. These sunscreens contain ingredients which absorb the energy from UV rays, preventing it affecting your skin, before turning it into heat. They contain ingredients such as oxybenzone (for UVB and some UVA), avobenzone (UVA), octisalate (UVB), or homosalate (UVB). However, some of these ingredients have been linked to environmental damage such as coral bleaching.

You can also get combined sunscreens. These are chemical sunscreens that include some physical protection too.

How does UV protection help in collagen preservation?

As you know, collagen is a protein that gives your skin structure, elasticity, and firmness. UVA rays can penetrate deep into your skin and damage the collagen fibres there, so you should wear broad-spectrum sunscreen to keep out the rays and prevent damage.

Can you tell me how to choose a sunscreen for different skin types?

Here are four quick recommendations for different skin types:

  • Oily or acne-prone skin. Choose an oil-free sunscreen, preferably one labelled ‘non-comedogenic’ — in other words, a sunscreen that won’t clog your pores. A gel-based sunscreen or water-based sunscreen may be suitable.
  • Dry skin. Choose a cream or lotion sunscreen that includes moisturising ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerine, or ceramides. Steer clear of alcohol-based sunscreens, which will tend to dry out your skin.
  • Sensitive skin. Look for a physical sunscreen rather than an chemical sunscreen. Make sure that the sunscreen is fragrance free and hypoallergenic and that it doesn’t include oxybenzone or PABA.
  • Dark skin tones. If you favour physical sunscreens, look for a ‘sheer’ or ‘invisible’ one that won’t leave a white cast.
  • Ageing skin. Look for a sunscreen that includes antioxidants, such as vitamin C or vitamin E, to protect your skin against damage from free radicals. If your skin is getting thinner, look for a sunscreen that includes hydrating and nourishing ingredients.

Whichever type of skin you have, get a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect you from UVA rays as well as UVB rays.

 

What are the best sunscreens for daily facial use?

Here are three recommendations of sunscreens for daily facial use:

  • Heliocare 360º Mineral Tolerance Fluid. This broad-spectrum sunscreen is really runny, spreads well, and dries down clear so it suits all skin tones. The formula contains Heliocare’s special antioxidant, Fernblock, which adds an extra level of environmental protection.
  • NeoStrata Sheer Physical Protection SPF50. This is a great physical sunscreen that looks and feels more like a make-up primer. It has a beige tint, too, so it gives a bit of coverage on pale and medium skin tones.
  • Medik8 Advanced Day Total Protect, SPF30. This is a very nice chemical sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum UV protection. It’s good and hydrating but settles down to a dry-touch finish that is a great base for makeup.

What are the benefits of oil-free sunblocks?

Oil-free sunscreens or sunblocks are designed not to clog your pores in the way that oil-based sunscreens are prone to do. This means that oil-free sunscreens are good if you suffer from acne or oily skin. Oil-free sunscreens are also often faster absorbing than oil-based sunscreens, feel less greasy on your skin, and work well under makeup.

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