Do you know your factor 8’s from your factor 30’s and your UVA protection from your UVB? Browsing a display of sunscreens can certainly be confusing, so here’s a little help.
First to the basics: how do sunscreens work? Sunscreens, also commonly referred to as sun block, sun tan lotion and sun cream, are products which contain a combination of ingredients which help to prevent the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the skin.
There are two types of radiation, UVA has longer wavelengths and can cause lasting skin damage, skin aging and skin cancer, because they are not absorbed by the ozone layer and so can penetrate skin deeply, potentially causing the most harm. UVB has shorter waves, is partially absorbed by the ozone layer but can still cause sunburn and also skin damage and skin cancer. Most products focus on protecting against UVB rays, but those that describe themselves as broad spectrum provide protection against UVA and UVB. Sunscreens both absorb and reflect the sun’s harmful rays.
You will see the expression ‘sun protection factor (SPF)’ on products. This is a measure of the products ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. For example if your skin would usually start to redden in the sun after 10 minutes, using a sunscreen with a factor of 30 suggests that you will not redden until you have been in the sun for 30 times as long as that which is 300 minutes. You should remember that this is only a guide. You will also find additional guidance about which factor to choose depending on how fair your skin is as the fairer you are the faster you will generally burn. The time of day you are out will also have an impact. For example protection won’t be as good if you are exposed to full strength mid day sun compared to early morning rays. You should also remember that you will need to reapply sunscreens regularly throughout the day.
There are a huge range of products to choose from. Sunscreens now come in lotions, creams, gels and oils. Many have additional ingredients to make them smell nicer, be water resistant, show up as a colour or be easy to rub in. There are also special varieties developed for the face and lips.
One final thing to remember is that certain health conditions and medications can make a person more sensitive to sun exposure, so you might need to use a higher SPF if on antibiotics or antihistamines for example. If you are on medication it is best to seek professional advice.