Don't rely on suncreams as your only method of skin protection when the sun is out. [Photo: Bigstock]

Summer skin care – it’s as easy as 1-2-3

13 July, 2015

When the sun is out there’s no need to hide.

You skin, in fact your whole body, will benefit from the amazing process through which your body turns sunlight into essential vitamin D. And doesn’t it just feel good to strip off a few layers and enjoy the sun, the sea and the breeze?

But equally overexposure to the sun can cause real damage to the skin and in spite of 30 years of dermatologists’ warnings, rates of skin cancer continue to rise alarmingly, in the UK and around the world.

We hear a lot of cautions these days about keeping out of the sun, and covering up in – or even avoiding — the sun. Every year the advice on what to do gets longer and more complicated.

But staying safe in the sun really is pretty simple; just follow these three steps:

1. Choose a good quality sunscreen

These days there more to sunscreen quality than just what it does for your skin. Many types of chemical sunscreens have been shown to be hormone disrupters which make them risky in terms of human health.  But the risk doesn’t stop there. Washed down the drain or washed off in the sea they have been implicated in water pollution and even the bleaching of coral reefs.

This means we all have a duty to choose wisely, not just for ourselves but for the planet too.  When choosing and using sunscreen:

Check the ingredients

These are just some of the reasons why reputable manufacturers have made the switch of physical sun-blocking ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. But don’t just focus on the ‘active’ ingredients of your sunscreen. The ‘inactive ingredients are important to. Opt for moisturising vegetable oil based formulations over mineral oil based ones. Check the ingredient label for natural extracts such as rosehip oil, lavender and lemongrass which can boost the effectiveness of the product.

Choose the SPF that’s right for you

The Sun Protection Factors (SPF) is something we all know, but very few of us understand how it works. You might think that and SPF 30 give you twice the protection of an SPF 15, but this is not the case. The SPF scale is not linear, thus:

•             SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays

•             SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays

•             SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays

The SPF 15-30 range is considered moderate protection; up to SPF 50 is considered high protection. No sunscreen can block all the sun’s rays, but if you have sensitive skin that is prone to burning those few extra percentage points can make a difference.

Think UV-Burning and UV-Ageing

An SPF rating only relates to the UVB rays that cause us to burn, not UVA which causes premature ageing of the skin and also increases our risk of skin cancer.  So in addition to choosing the level of SFP protection that’s right for your skin, look for the words ‘broad spectrum’ or the star rating (from 1-5) indicating how well the product protects against UVA.

Don’t skimp

Adults need around 70ml (2oz) of suncream to cover their entire body well (use more or less depending on your size). Don’t forget to protect your hands and feet as suncream will get washed and rubbed away faster on these areas. Remember also to keep your lips moisturised and protected.  Apply suncream generously and reapply ever two hours.

It may all sound like a bit of a chore and you might think that fake tans are a better option, but many contain dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a chemical that, according to research, accelerates skin cell death and has the potential to cause genetic alterations and DNA damage. 

2. But don’t just rely on sunscreen

An SPF shows how much longer wearing a sunscreen allows you to stay in the sun before you begin to burn. The formula is:

Time before burning without sunscreen x SPF = Time before burning with sunscreen

E.g. 20 minutes x SPF 10 = 200 minutes.

But even with all the math on your side, sunscreens should be considered an additional method of protection, rather than your only method of protection. And it’s actually good to make it a habit never to stay out continuously in the sun for hours on end – whether you are wearing suncream or not. When the sun is out remember:

Seek shade

Your skin, your hair and your eyes all need a break from the sun, so seek shade during the middle of the day. Remember also that even in the shade water, sand and light coloured surfaces like concrete can sand can reflect UV rays onto your skin, so keep your suncream topped up.

Cover up

Lightweight, cotton cover-ups along with a cap or broad-brimmed hat will act as shields from harmful UV rays.

Most summer clothes provide an SPF of more than 10 – thus specially designed clothing (reputed to block UV rays), is not only expensive, it’s unnecessary. An average weight t-shirt provides an SPF of 7. Dark fabrics (dyed black, navy-blue, etc) provide the highest SPF, but white, green or beige can also be protective depending on the fabric thickness.

A hat with a wide brim, shadowing your entire face, and covering your ears and neck, is your best bet. The brim should be at least 2 inches all the way around. This will help protect the nose, tops of ears, scalp, and back of the neck—some of your most sunburn-prone areas.

Sunglasses will protect your eyes from prolonged exposure. Wrap-around types provide more protection than those with small lenses.

3 Get into a rhythm with your skin – and the sun

For health reasons a little exposure to the sun is important. From April to October (in the Northern Hemisphere, September to March in the Southern Hemisphere), spending just 10-15 minutes outside without sunscreen between 11am – 3pm enables your body to make vitamin D – essential for strong, healthy bones. In less time than it takes to go red or burn, your body receives a vital health boost. Take care never to burn but remember that a little dose of sunshine is definitely good for you.

Most of us know how much sun we can take before we burn. While the joy of being outdoors and on holiday may encourage us to push our limits a bit, this is really never wise. Frequent short exposures are better than prolonged exposure and this rhythm is especially important at the beginning of the season when your skin has yet to acclimatise to the sun.

Overexposure to the sun can, over time, take its toll on the skin wrinkles, freckles, skin thinning, sunspots (also known as age spots) and uneven pigmentation and of course skin cancer. It’s estimated that 90% of premature wrinkles are caused by the sun, and while intentional overexposure (tanning, sunbathing) is incredibly harmful, two-thirds of all sun damage is, surprisingly, incidental — in other words it occurs while we’re out walking the dog or driving.

And don’t forget after sun care

Skin exposed to the sun needs extra care so make sure you regularly use a good quality moisturiser, based on vegetable oils and natural extracts, on your face and body. Certain plant extracts have also been shown to repair sun damage. Look for products with, for instance wild rosehip seed oil or aloe vera. Calendula is also very healing for dry or exposed skin.