Why you need sunscreen all year round, even indoors

Woman putting sunscreen on face. (Getty Images)
Are you applying sunscreen every day? (Getty Images)

If you only use one skin care product, make it your sunscreen – every single day.

Experts have reminded us of the importance of wearing SPF all year round, irrespective of weather, as new research reveals the UK isn't following sun safety guidance and tanning beauty standards are still outweighing worries about skin cancer.

Only 22% of the UK apply SPF daily, according to a national skin health YouGov survey of more than 2,000 respondents commissioned by Face the Future. More than half (55%) of us across the country only wear SPF when it is sunny and 40% only wear it on holiday.

Meanwhile, 56% of the UK who actively seek a tan do so for confidence (with sunbeds also still very much not a thing of the past), 45% aren't worried about getting skin cancer and a similar amount (46%) are not familiar with symptoms of the disease.

Despite more cases of malignant melanoma being diagnosed in Australia, more Brits die from the disease each year, according to Cancer Research UK – showing the lack of public awareness that remains and failure to spot signs.

Here, we explore the movements trying to change this and experts explain why we need to wear SPF daily (even indoors), why it's important for all skin tones, and whether moisturiser containing SPF counts.

Mature Man Lying On Grass And Sunbathing At Home As Children Play In Pool
Rain or shine, people need to be wearing SPF in the UK every day. (Getty Images)

Overcoming cost as a barrier to everyday SPF

With cost being a barrier to purchasing products – 64% say SPF is expensive – Face the Future has cut VAT on SPF products from 14th March-31st May 2024 as part of its 366 Days of SPF campaign to help make it a daily habit.

"We believe that everyone in the UK has the right to sun safety and skin health," says director and co-owner at Face the Future, Julia Barcoe-Thompson, adding: "We hope that this additional 20% saving will encourage UK consumers to begin or continue their SPF journey."

Amy Callaghan MP has partnered with the skincare and beauty retailer to support the campaign, with her own VAT Burn campaign calling on the UK government to remove VAT from sunscreen products that have a health benefit.

Callaghan says, "Too many people still don't protect their skin from the sun, as their research has found, putting them at risk of melanoma and other skin cancers. It's high time the UK government took note of these stats and enacted meaningful action to reduce deaths from melanoma and other skin cancers."

Perhaps influenced by SPF not currently treated as an essential, 45% of the UK tend to disagree/strongly disagree with the medical advice to wear it every day, even indoors and during winter.

Skin Care Using Cosmetic Skin Cream
SPF has benefits for all skin tones. (Getty Images)

Why we need to wear SPF all year round in the UK

"Photoaging isn't seasonal, UV rays continue to break down skin cells whether it's warm or not, or whether it feels strong or not. This is why it's important to wear SPF daily, including in winter/bad weather," explains clinic lead at Face the Future, Kimberley Medd.

"Even through clouds, it's estimated as much as 80% of UV rays still penetrate through, so despite it not being sunny, you're not completely shielded from UV exposure and shouldn't be reliant on what the weather looks like.

"Even people who do winter sports will find that they should be wearing SPF, for instance, higher altitudes at ski resorts are at higher risk of reflected rays. UV radiation is more intense when reflected by water, sand, and snow."

And while the risk of UV exposure is lower indoors, Medd adds, however, "If you sit by a window with direct sunlight on a regular basis, and for over a number of years, your skin will need protecting, as UV can still pass through glass windows."

Young bearded man lying on wooden bench next to window and reading book while his dog lying next to him and napping
Make SPF a part of your routine to protect your skin regardless of weather or what you're doing each day. (Getty Images)

Why SPF is important for people of all skin tones

There's a misconception of having a 'healthy tan', when there's no such thing when caused from sun exposure – as it's essentially your body's response to skin cell damage," says Medd.

"SPF isn't important just for lighter/Caucasian skin types, although the risks are higher and more common for skin cancer due to not producing as much melanin. Although skin cancer is less prevalent in tan and darker skin tones, UV exposure still poses a risk to all.

"People of colour and of different ethnicities can be at a higher risk of pigmentation/sunspots, meaning that they should still be wearing SPF as a preventative measure. UV can also worsen existing conditions such as lupus, which is prevalent in black people, for instance.

"Whether or not you're limiting your sun exposure levels, it's important to take a daily vitamin of Vitamin D [this is recommended by the NHS for autumn and winter]."

Real life Australian Japanese family gets ready to go surfing together
Remember to reapply SPF with more sun exposure. (Getty Images)

Does moisturiser containing SPF count?

"The safest way to apply SPF is to have it applied separately to your moisturiser, due to these hybrid products being designed for multiple uses – e.g, foundation, for acne etc," says Medd.

"It's also possible that you don't apply enough of your SPF as it's within your moisturiser, and the coverage isn't even so you don't apply enough in a certain area or you're missing parts of the skin which is on show.

"There are however so many sophisticated SPFs on the market today which aren't all thick, heavy formulas – some are translucent, lightweight, gel, mineral or dewy and super hydrating, so they can act as a moisturiser instead of needing a separate moisturiser."

Research has shown that tinted sunscreens may also have additional benefits due to their ability to block visible light.

Mid adult woman standing in front of the bathroom mirror and spreading a layer of facial cream on her cheeks
Experts have advised to use SPF as a stand alone product as part of your skin care regime. (Getty Images)

How can you help cut SPF VAT?

"People can show support to help get VAT cut from suncare protection products by signing and spreading awareness of campaigns like Amy Callaghan MP's VAT Burn, as the change has to come from the UK government, the same way other countries such as Australia have been able to make SPF products exempt from VAT charges, as long as they are marketing for sole use as a sunscreen and have an SPF over a certain level (SPF 30+ is recommended)."

So, if you can, don't wait for the height of summer and start wearing SPF every day now if you don't already.

Watch: 1 in 5 millennials and Gen Xers didn’t wear sunscreen as teens