7 things you should know about UV protection
Clare O’Connor, Senior Research Scientist of Skin Science for No7, separates the myths from the facts when it comes to SPF.
Just slather it on and it'll protect you from the sun's harmful UV rays, right? Wrong. There's much more to SPF than you might have previously known, including how much you should use for adequate protection, and how often you should wear it. Clare O'Connor spills the tea on SPF below:
1. SPF isn't the only number to look out for on sun cream packaging
All sun care products are labelled with an SPF number and a UVA label, both of which are of equal importance. UVB tends to penetrate the upper layers of the skin only and is mainly associated with skin burning, whereas UVA is associated with longer term sun damage effects such as premature skin ageing as it penetrates deep down into the skin. When not protected against adequately, UVA rays cause damage to the skin’s fibrillin springs, which contribute to its plump appearance, as they are broken down easily in sunlight.
2. Sun exposure can cause unwanted pigmentation
Whilst many skin cells are constantly renewed, repaired and replaced, there are some that do not regenerate such as melanocytes, whose role it is to produce melanin. The damage to these cells can cause over or under production of melanin leading to an uneven skin tone. UV protection should always be the first line of defence to protect against this build-up of damage, which manifests itself immediately as darkening of the skin (i.e. tan) or in the long term as pigmentation or age spots.
3. Thicker application provides better protection
The sun protection factor (SPF) is calculated by applying an even layer of the product over the skin's surface but products are often applied too sparingly, which can reduce the level of protection your skin will have against UV light. As a quick guide you should use a teaspoonful of product to cover the face and neck including the back of your neck and ears. Whilst a minimum of SPF15 broad spectrum protection is advised on a daily basis for incidental sun exposure, such as going outside for a few minutes or sitting next to a window, a higher SPF should be worn in deliberate sun exposure.
4. Layering SPF products does not double-up protection
A common misconception is that using two products with SPF will increase the overall protection. For example, if you use an SPF 15 day cream with a foundation of SPF 15, it will not give you SPF 30 protection. However, there are some benefits from layering protection products to improve the protection our skin actually gets, as chances are that applying a second product will help to fill in any missed areas to achieve a more protective barrier.
5. A 'healthy tan' does not exist
Unfortunately there is no such thing as a healthy tan however much we wish it were true. Any changes in pigmentation levels are as a response to skin damage. UV damage is cumulative and can lead to premature skin aging, including wrinkles, sagging and hyperpigmentation. UV (ultraviolet) rays are also prevalent all the year round, even when it’s cold outside.
6. UV rays are the biggest cause of visual signs of ageing
Around 80% of the signs of ageing in our skin, such as fine lines and wrinkles, are caused by UV exposure. Our natural skin colour is dependent on how much melanin we have within our skin, with darker skin having the higher levels. In many ways this dictates how our skin ages. Lighter skin tends to wrinkle and sag early in the ageing process with pigmentation appearing later. In contrast, darker skin remains smooth and unlined for much longer, but pigmentation concerns appear earlier than wrinkles and sagging.
7. Safe sun exposure has many benefits
Despite some of these negative effects of the sun, being outside and feeling the warmth of the sun on our skin has many health benefits, not least of which is the production of vitamin D, but other benefits of sun exposure include the lowering of blood pressure and benefits to our mental health. All of these can still be achieved whilst being sun safe and wearing appropriate sunscreen for our skin type.