SPF is at the forefront of our minds, with more and more evidence we should be using sunscreen all year round regardless of weather conditions or skin type. Wearing sunscreen is one of the simplest ways to protect your skin against damaging factors that can make you appear older. Oh, and it helps prevent sunburn and skin cancer, too.
'But why is sunscreen so important?' We hear you ask. 'And how does it work?' Well, don't worry – we've got you covered with the A-Z of sunscreen.
For proper sun protection
Firstly, you should wear SPF 30 sunscreen daily, even on cloudy days. SPF stands for sun protection factor and measures how effectively the sunscreen combats sun exposure. The higher the number, the more protection you get. If you spend all day outdoors in the sunlight, SPF 50 is commonly accepted to be the best choice.
When shopping for sunscreen, something fragrance-free, water-resistant and, if you need it, suitable for sensitive skin is a great place to start. Sunscreen has come a long way in recent years, and most products have all of these things as standard.
Lots of modern skincare and make-up products will have combined SPF properties, but it's super important to wear proper sunscreen underneath your make-up. That’s because the SPF component in the product will be watered down by, well, all the make-up. This means it's a lot less effective, and you'll need a lot more of it to get the same level of protection. Unless you want to wear a thick layer of moisturiser, it's easier (and safer) to just wear sunscreen underneath.
Depending on your skin type, you might not need to use moisturisers at all. If your skin is on the oily side, you may want to opt-out of using a moisturiser, but if your skin is dry, doubling up on both could be beneficial. Why? Because there are quite often hydrating agents in sunscreen.
Remember, you should reapply your sunscreen every two hours when you’re outside, especially if you're swimming or sweating. If you’re indoors, one layer in the morning will see you through the day.
To protect against harmful UV rays
Let's start with a quick science lesson. The sun emits three wavelengths of ultraviolet (UV) rays – UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVA rays cause premature ageing, whereas UVB rays cause sunburn and in some cases, skin cancer. That's because UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and damage its structure and elasticity, whereas UVB rays barely get past the outer layer. Most broad-spectrum sunscreens combat both UVA and UVB rays. UVC rays are the most dangerous of the three, but we don't have to worry about them down here on earth. The trusty ozone layer high in the atmosphere gives us all the sun protection we need against UVC rays.
For years, it was thought not all UV light was harmful. Early sunscreens focused on blocking the UVB rays, mainly because the risk of skin cancer and sunburn was well known. However, the ageing effects of UVA rays were only appreciated more recently, and the beauty industry has moved to offer sunscreen that covers a wider range of wavelengths. That's why it's important to ensure that you don't just look at the SPF on the label but also make sure it's broad-spectrum – covering both UVA and UVB rays. Most sunscreens do, but not all.
Sunscreen protects against sunlight damage by reflecting, absorbing or scattering sunlight when it hits your skin. Wearing sunscreen daily decreases your risk of skin damage through sunburn and premature ageing.
Skin cancer is one of the most commonly occurring cancers. Although it’s generally treatable if caught early, the best treatment is prevention. Wearing a sunscreen with at least SPF 15 can reduce the likelihood of developing skin cancer by 50%, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. And factor 30 is even better. Even with factor 50, you still have to be careful in the summer and take other sun-protective measures where possible.
To top up your daily dose of antioxidants
Most SPFs are packed with an array of antioxidants and hydrating agents to soften and care for the skin. On top of protecting your skin from sunburn and sun damage, antioxidants help protect you from free radicals and environmental aggressors (think pollution) we're exposed to daily. Two birds, one stone.
To reduce signs of ageing
UV radiation can cause your skin to age dramatically. 90% of visible ageing signs, like wrinkles, fine lines and crow's feet are caused by sun damage to the skin, according to one study. It happens because UV rays cause a loss of collagen and skin elasticity, giving skin an older appearance. It also causes redness in the skin. As the sun damages the skin, the body directs more blood flow to the area to help repair the skin, causing redness.
Sunscreen and physical sunscreens – such as a wide-brimmed hat – can help reduce the number of UV rays hitting the skin, lessening wrinkles and other signs of ageing.
To protect your skin when you're using acidic skincare products
If you're using skincare products with high acid contents – things like retinol, AHAs and BHAs – using sunscreen becomes even more important. These acidic products exfoliate the skin, removing all your dead skin cells from the surface and revealing a fresh layer of skin below. Because this skin is almost brand new, it's sensitive and more prone to sun damage.
If you're using acid-infused toners and exfoliators, chances are you care about your skin. But if you're not using sunscreen in your skincare routine, all your hard work is wasted as your skin is easily damaged by the sunlight.
Remember that you should take skincare super seriously. Wear sunscreen with an SPF 30 and reapply every two hours if you're in the sun – especially if you're sweating or splashing about in the water. You can never reduce the risk of exposure to zero, but everything you do – from sunscreen and staying in the shade to minimising the amount of time in direct sunlight (especially in the hours around midday) – will reduce long-time damage.