There’s no denying the importance of sun cream: it’s the one product that’s able to protect against the sun’s harmful rays, reducing overall UV exposure and ultimately lowering the risk of both skin ageing and skin cancer.
Despite that, a lot of people are still unsure about whether they actually need it, how much should be used and when it needs to be reapplied, with various myths and outdated advice still pervading.
But why is there so much confusion around something so important? According to Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at Self London, it’s the fault of the terminology.
“There’s a lot to remember, and people are often confused between UVA, UVB, broad-spectrum and PA rating,” she explains. “And then there’s the chemical versus mineral sunscreens. Throw in the different filter ingredients – all of which have complicated names – along with the added greenwashing rhetoric, and it’s a lot for the average consumer to get their head around.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Cut through the jargon, and it’s all very simple, really. With the help of the experts, we’re here to debunk some of the most common myths surrounding sun cream.
If I use SPF50, I don’t need to reapply it all day
Regardless of SPF, sun cream should be reapplied every couple of hours – depending on your location and the time of year
It’s true that the higher the SPF, the higher percentage of UV rays will be blocked. As Dr Mahto explains, SPF30 will block around 97%, where an SPF50 will block out 98%. “There’s no sunscreen that can block out 100% of rays, and my advice would always be to go with a minimum of SPF30 for face and body if you can,” she says.
However, don’t get complacent and think one application will have you covered all day. In some situations it’ll be enough, but it depends where you are and what you’re doing.
“In winter, especially in the UK, applying SPF in the morning will provide adequate protection for the day,” explains Dr Mahto. “But if you’ve been sweating, swimming, or anything else that means it could come off, reapplication is necessary. During the summer, if you’re not spending a lot of time outside, SPF50 applied once is probably enough, but if you’re in the sun all day, I advise reapplying every few hours.”
While that might sound like a chore, especially if you’re wearing makeup, there are now various sprays and powders – like Ultra Violette’s Preen Screen SPF50 Reapplication Mist (£32; untraviolette.co.uk) and Supergoop!’s (Re)Setting 100% Mineral Powder SPF30 (£29; cultbeauty.co.uk) – designed to help speed things up.
Bear in mind, too, that water has a cooling effect on your skin, so if you’re in and out of the pool all day, you’re far less likely to notice that your skin is heating up.
There’s SPF in my makeup or moisturiser, so I don’t need to wear a separate facial sunscreen
You probably won’t be applying enough product to get adequate protection
Any protection is better than nothing at all, but in order to ensure you get the amount promised you need to apply enough, and chances are that’s going to be significantly higher than your usual amount. The “two finger” rule – dispensing two strips of product to your index and middle fingers and then applying it to your face – is a good one to remember. Dermatologists recommend opting for a minimum of SPF30 for everyday wear – and ideally SPF50 – so to reduce the amount of products you’re layering on each morning, try a product like CeraVe’s AM Facial Moisturising Lotion SPF50 (£16.50; boots.com) or Dr.Jart+’s Premium BB Cream (£35; lookfantastic.com), which also has SPF50 protection.
Darker skin doesn’t need sunscreen
Melanin gives some protection, but it’s nowhere near the required amount
Put simply, darker skin tones are not immune to the damaging effects of the sun. “Contrary to popular belief, we all need sunscreen, because we all need a minimum of SPF30 coverage, and the protection that melanin provides isn’t anywhere near that,” says Dr Ifeome Ejikeme, CeraVe’s Medical Consultant. “The biggest concerns I see in patients are hyperpigmentation, periorbital melanosis, melasma and mottled pigmentation – all of which occur due to excessive sun exposure and can be reduced by using sunscreen.”
It’s cloudy or cold outside, so I don’t need sun cream
UV rays penetrate year-round, so you need to be protected every single day
Despite the weather, the UV rays emitted from the sun are harmful all year round, and they can penetrate both clouds and windows – which is why it’s a good idea to get into the habit of wearing sun cream every day, especially on your face.
“You can check the day’s UV levels on the weather app on your phone,” says Dr Mahto. “And if you check it in winter, you’ll see that the UV rays are still moderate.”
Wearing sunscreen can cause a vitamin D deficiency
It’s possible, but still better to protect yourself against skin cancer
Clinical studies have conflicting evidence on this one, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry where skin cancer is concerned.
“Testing has often been carried out in laboratory conditions, often using sources that don’t necessarily mimic sunlight, and the studies themselves often have inherent design or methodological flaws,” explains Dr Mahto. “So my personal thoughts on this would be that it’s much better to protect yourself from skin cancer where possible, especially given the data so far suggests sunscreen will not impact vitamin D synthesis.”
If you are concerned about developing a vitamin D deficiency, however, there are plenty of supplements available – like Vitabiotics Ultra Vitamin D (£5.49 for 96 tablets; hollandandbarrett.com).
Wearing sunscreen will stop me getting a tan
You can still tan while protecting your skin
No sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s rays, and therefore no sunscreen can entirely prevent you from tanning. However, it’s important to remember that any tan is a form of skin damage, because you are changing the skin’s DNA. So should we all be staying indoors on sunny days, instead of making the most of the fleeting British summer?
“I appreciate that people want to enjoy the sun,” says Dr Mahto. “As long as you are protecting yourself to the best of your ability, then it’s fine.”
For more information on sun safety, visit nhs.uk/live-well/seasonal-health/sunscreen-and-sun-safety