What should I look for on the label?
The European Commission recommends that we should always choose a sunscreen that provides both UVA and UVB protection.
This is shown on the packaging as a number known as the SPF (Sun Protection Factor). It is an indication of the amount of protection your sunscreen provides against UVB rays. UVB rays penetrate the outer layer of the skin and damage the cells resulting in inflamed skin or sunburn
(think B for burning).
A product containing SPF15 is the recommended minimum by most health experts, and at least SPF 30 when visiting very hot countries – so consider your location and skin type when you choose products. The type of protection the sunscreen offers is also labelled on pack – this will be either low, medium, high or very high.
UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and cause damage to the cells resulting in premature skin ageing.
UVA protection is indicated on-pack by showing the letters "UVA" in a circle and indicates that a product contains at least the recommended minimum level of UVA protection for a sunscreen. There is a standardised way that sun protection products are labelled for both UVA protection and SPF level, so wherever you purchase your product you should look for the same information.
Does it matter how you apply it?
Yes! You need to apply your sun protection product at least 15-30 minutes before you go out in the sun, and make sure you follow the instructions on how much and when to apply your sunscreen and to reapply. Remember to make sure you rub your sunscreen over all of the areas that are going to be exposed to the sun – don't forget the shoulders, tops of the ears. Keep it topped up: - at least every 2 hours - or more frequently if you are swimming, showering, or sweating a lot.
Are the one application only products any good?
'Extended wear' sunscreens, as they are called, are formulated to stay on the skin longer while maintaining sun protection. So these are well suited to those people with busy outdoor lifestyle or for whom re-application of sunscreen is more difficult. As sun production products, they legally have to comply with exactly the same safety requirements as for more traditional sunscreens. It's always worth remembering though that just like with traditional sun screens, they should not be to be used to stay longer in the sun but to provide protection where sun exposure cannot be avoided.
Are water-resistant sun creams worth it?
It is important to use a water-resistant sunscreen when swimming, particularly between the hours of 11.00am and 3.00pm. After swimming, be sure to reapply, and remember that the UV rays can penetrate water to a depth of at least 10 metres when the sun is overhead.
What's best for sensitive skin?
Look for products that claim hypoallergenic and fragrance-free you have particularly sensitive skin. The definition of Hypoallergenic means 'reduced potential to cause allergic reactions'. Products labelled in this way will have been carefully formulated and tested to reduce further the likelihood of reactions. These products may still contain fragrance, identified in the ingredients list as 'parfum', so check carefully if you wish to avoid fragrance altogether. Look for 'fragrance-free', 'unscented' or 'unperfumed' and remember that it is also important to avoid any products containing essential oils as they often have the same natural constituents that are used in fragrances to give a product a pleasant scent.