Focus: Staying Sun Safe

After what seems like an inordinately long wet, windy and generally grey spring, the sun has finally made an appearance and seems to be sticking with us for a bit. There is even rumour of an impending heatwave here in the UK but let’s not count our chickens… With school holidays not that far off (we have just started ours), the possibility of holidays (both home and abroad) and a whole host of sporting fixtures ahead (Tour de France, the Olympics, Wimbledon and the Euros to name but a few), the potential for catching some rays is high.

We all know the principles of best practice when it comes to sun exposure but when it comes to it, do we always abide by them? Hopefully this post will help answer any questions you have on staying sun safe.

Sunshine is a vital source of vitamin D and does wonders for both our metal and physical health. We all need vitamin D to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body which keeps our bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Conditions like psoriasis can improve when exposed to the sun (being a psoriasis sufferer myself I know this from experience) but exposure to sunshine can also improve our moods, lower our blood pressure and just make us feel good. That sense of bliss you experience when you go outside on a sunny day is caused by the brain increasing the release of serotonin, a hormone which makes us feel calm and focused.

The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors and from late March/early April to the end of September, most people should be able to make all the vitamin D their bodies need from sunlight however the optimum amount of vitamin D  you need and produce will be personal to you and depend on your skin type, where you live and how sensitive you are to it.

It is very tempting to soak up all your sunshine in one day by laying out there baking yourself but that is also the best way to do damage to your skin. Little and often is the best approach to topping up on sunshine.

N.B: Whilst I’ve written a few over the years, I’m always wary about writing about SPF because it is such a potential minefield. Whilst it is skincare it also somewhat crosses over into healthcare and I think there are a lot of misconceptions about sunscreen and how it should actually be used which can lead to potentially dangerous consequences. I do my research but ultimately it I am not a healthcare professional or an expert on sunscreen so make sure you do your research too.

The Nitty Gritty

Let’s be honest (and the there is no judgement here). Most people have a tendency to just slap on the cream whenever they go on holiday or if the sun is super strong but forget about it for the rest of the time or as soon as they get back home.

I’m sure we are all guilty of fair weather application at times (I know I am) even though we know what we should do to stay sun safe.

  • Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
  • Never burn
  • Cover up – wear suitable clothing, a hat and sunglasses
  • Take extra care with children
  • Use SPF – at least factor 30 sunscreen
  • Stay hydrated

The NHS has a highly informative page on their website on sun safety (you can find it here). They recommend that in the UK Sunscreen should been worn daily between the months of March and October when the sun is at its strongest (as a rough guide that’s between and 11am and 3pm).

When should I apply my sunscreen?

It is recommended that should apply sunscreen about 20-30 minutes before you go outside and allow the cream to fully settle in before dressing to avoid it rubbing off onto your clothes.

Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2-3 hours, more frequently if you are in the water or sweating heavily.

How much should I apply?

I can almost certainly guarantee that most people do not apply enough sunscreen. You know the drill, a quick squeeze of the tube, slap it on the back of your neck, face and chest and get on with your day. Not enough sunscreen.

The NHS suggest that you use six to eight teaspoons of sunscreen over your entire body. That is roughly equivalent to about two tablespoons or one 25ml shot glass.

If you are a little larger or particularly tall then you will need to use more. It isn’t a one size fits all situation. If you are wearing clothes then this will obviously reduce the amount needed but any exposed skin should have have sunscreen on.

Imagine this: a man in long trousers and a short sleeved shirt. That’s a minimum of three teaspoons of sunscreen needed – two exposed arms and his face (you will want a bit more for the ears and neck!).

You can see why that one tube will not last you (and your family) the whole summer despite what you may think.

What is the difference between UVA and UVB rays?

Ultraviolet (UV) light travels towards earth from the sun. UV light has shorter wavelengths than visible light, so your eyes can’t see UV, but your skin can feel it.

Two types of UV light are proven to contribute to the risk for skin cancer:

  • Ultraviolet A (UVA) has a longer wavelength. It is associated with skin aging.
  • Ultraviolet B (UVB) has a shorter wavelength. It is associated with skin burning.

When choosing a sunscreen you should look for one which offers brand spectrum protection agains both UVA and UVB rays.

There is also a UVC but unless you are in space this isn’t something you need to worry about as the wavelengths are so short!

 

Will I get twice a much protection from SPF50 than SPF25?

Sunscreen is measured in its UVB (Ultra Violet B) protection by it’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF). The SPF ratings are the measure of time which an individual can stay in the sun whilst wearing a sunscreen compared to how long they could stay in the sun without it. For instance:

A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 would provide 30 times the protection of no sunscreen.

If an individual stayed in full sun without sunscreen for 10 minutes before they began to burn, technically they would be able to to stay in the sun for 300 minutes (or 5 hours) if they had applied  the correct amount of a sunscreen with an SPF30 (obviously this is a rough guide).

SPF ratings aren’t a sliding scale; an SPF 50 is not twice as effective as an SPF25. The higher you go, the coverage becomes more negligible. If the sunscreen is properly applied then it works something like this…

SPF 4 will protect you against 75% of UVB rays

SPF 10 will protect you against 90% of UVB rays

SPF 15 will protect you against 93% of UVB rays

SPF 25 will protect you against 96% of UVB rays

SPF 30 will protect you against 97% of UVB rays

SPF 50 will protect you against 98% of UVB rays

SPF 100 will protect you against 99% of UVB rays

Remember: Nothing will 100% protect you from the suns rays.

Personally I can’t bare SPF50 on my skin as I find it to thick and heavy and it exacerbates my heat rash and so at most I apply factor 30 and top up regularly.

What’s the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens?

The primary difference between chemical and physical sunscreen is the active ingredients they contain. Sunscreens which contain titanium dioxide, zinc oxide (or a combination of both) are considered a physical sunscreen. If your sunscreen doesn’t contain either and has ingredients such as oxybenzone or octinoxate, then it is a chemical sunscreen.

Mineral or physical sunscreens create a physical barrier on your skin that reflects UV light. They don’t absorb into the skin. They are often recognised by their thicker consistency and can leave a white cast on the skin – although formulations are constantly improving so some no longer to this. Dermatologists often recommend physical sunscreens for people with sensitive skin.

Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays by changing their chemical structure to reduce sun damage. They are usually have a thinner constancy and usually absorb quicker. They are often available as sprays.

*Some sunscreens are called hybrids because they contain one or more active ingredients found in chemical and physical sunscreens.

What does Reef Safe mean?

Ingredients found in sunscreens are damaging our marine life. According to studies, Scientists have found that an estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen is deposited into our oceans and reefs every year. Oxybenzon and Octinoxate, two ingredients commonly found in many chemical sunscreens are contributing to coral bleaching and are leaving reefs deformed.

Some sunscreens are marked as Reef Safe; free from the chemicals that are known pollutants in many different aquatic environments. Sadly Reef Safe is not a regulated claim and so you need to ensure the product you are buying is genuinely

The Hawaiian-based, not-for-profit Haereticus Environmental Laboratory (HEL) sets the standard for reef-safe sunscreen and personal care products. If a sunscreen displays the Protect Land & Sea certification seal ( pictured below), it has been rigorously tested and found reef-safe. HEL holds companies accountable for the ingredients they use and continues to randomly test to ensure companies are maintaining reef-safe standards.

Unfortunately PL+S certification is not widely used in Europe at present however you can ensure the sunscreen you buy is reef safe – suck check the label!

Make sure your sunscreen does not contain the following ingredients:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • PABA
  • Parabens
  • Triclosan
  • Any nanoparticles or nano-sized zinc or titanium (if it doesn’t say micro-sized or non-nano,  it’s probably nano-sized)
  • Any form of microplastic (such as exfoliating beads)

Want to buy reef safe sunscreen?

If you are looking to buys some sunscreen this summer which ticks all the boxes (ie. ethical/organic/natural/conscious) and is reef-safe then here are a few suggestions:

Tropic Skincare sunscreen range is the first in Europe to carry Protect Land + Sea certification.

Green People have been working in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society, a UK charity dedicated to the protection of our seas, shores and wildlife. All of the sunscreens they produce are reef safe.

Odylique sunscreen is also reef safe. I have written a post on this sunscreen in the past.

Wow! That was a long one. I hope you found it useful. Next up will be a post about wearing makeup containing SPF and also how to best to combine both sunscreen and makeup, so keep an eye out for that in the next couple of weeks.

Have a sunny day :)

 

Resources:

BBC – Just One Thing 

NHS – Vitamins

NHS – Sun Safety

Cancer Research – Sun Safety

American Academy of Dermatology Association

M Anderson Cancer Centre

Science Daily – Sunscreen & Coral

Images:

1 – LJS – OMUA; 2 – Daniel Capilla;  3 & 4 –  Natural Science; 5 – Raw Pixel 

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