A few years ago choosing a good sunscreen meant most of us looked for a high protection factor (SPF) which rated how well the sunscreen would protect our skin from the burning UVB rays. The SPF rating referred to UVB blockage only. What only became apparent more recently is that it is the UVA rays, which penetrate far deeper than UVB, that cause premature ageing, decreased skin elasticity so more wrinkles and skin damage, but they don’t burn the skin. Despite this, there was no requirement for sunscreens to offer protection against the deeply damaging UVA rays.
Confused? You’re not the only one. ‘At least half the patients I see ask me questions about sunscreen’ says Dr Jennifer Stein, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at New York’s Langone Medical Centre. ‘People are confused about the different kinds of protection on offer and everybody wants to know what they should be looking out for’.
What you also need to be aware of is that a higher SPF, say Factor 30, does not mean you can spend twice as much time in the sun as if you had applied Factor 15. While SPF 15 filters out 93 percent of UVB, SPF 30 filters out 97 percent, and Factor 50 98 percent, only a slight improvement. Rather astonishingly given the weight of evidence, is that 75 percent of us still don’t apply sunscreen to our faces daily – hard to understand given that the humble sunscreen is hands down the most effective anti-ageing tool you can buy. The Environmental Protection Agency actually estimates that up to 90percent of skin changes associated with ageing are really caused by a lifetime’s exposure to UVA rays.
Since 2012, all sunscreen sold in Europe must offer both UVA and UVB protection. Bottles are still marked with an SPF factor but must have a broad-spectrum status with UVA marked on the labels. So are we safe to go out in the sun? Yes, and no. What is clear is that to stay safe you need to play safe with your sun screen.
Things You Need To Know
• No sun lotion is waterproof although they do offer differing levels of water resistance.
• Eyes are vulnerable to UV damage too.
• No sunscreen can block out all UV rays and all need regular reapplication.
• Most of us do not apply enough sunsceen. The minimum application is one shot glass full (let’s make it easy) every two hours.
• The amount of UV reaching us at midday in 15 minutes would take over an hour at 9am so be aware of the need for extra protection.
• Always apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before exposure to allow it to work