The biggest misconception in the skincare world? Sunscreen is optional. We don’t need it in the UK unless it’s summertime and we’re taking a trip to the beach. And throughout the rest of the year, we have enough in our makeup to keep us protected.
These are misconceptions that I hear in my consultations far too often, but it’s never the patient’s fault. The sad truth is that there’s a lot of misinformation and jargon flying around when it comes to sunscreen, but this type of misinformation is dangerous and can lead to premature ageing and even skin cancer.
How does UV light contribute to skin ageing?
Up to 90% of what we think of as ‘signs of skin ageing’ – all the wrinkles, lines, age spots, and crepey texture – are all due to exposure to UV light. Exposure to the sun causes direct cell injury and DNA damage, destroying collagen within the skin and damaging the skin’s support structure, causing it to sag and wrinkles to form.
Over time, exposure to the sun will also cause skin issues such as pigmentation and age spots which can make a person look a lot older than they really are.
Why is it important to wear sun protection every day?
There are two types of UV rays – UVA and UVB. UVB is the kind that will burn the surface of our skin if we give it a chance and is only strong in the UK during the summer. UVA is the longer-wavelength ultraviolet radiation that penetrates the skin more deeply and breaks down collagen and elastin. UVA light reaches us every day, not just in the summer or when it’s sunny, but in plain old daylight, all year round.
And it’s this everyday exposure to UVA which slowly, gradually stacks up over a lifetime and results in clusters of age spots, lines, wrinkles and laxity.
While the effects of sun damage are mainly cosmetic, they can also pose a severe threat to your health in the form of skin cancer. Repeated sunburns or unprotected exposure to UV light will increase the chance of various forms of skin cancer, which is why using a good quality sunscreen daily is so crucial.
What should you look for in a sunscreen?
To protect the skin against both UVA and UVB light, choosing a broad-spectrum sunscreen is vital. UVA rays penetrate glass and are present all year round, even on the cloudiest days, so there’s no escaping it. UVA damage leads to fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, uneven skin texture and loss of collagen – all the bad stuff. A broad-spectrum with a high SPF offers an excellent protection level against UVA and UVB rays and is the first step to ensuring healthy skin all year round.
Choosing the correct formulation for your skin type
Choosing the correct sunscreen for your skin primarily comes down to personal preference. Oily skin types should opt for sunscreen with a matte finish and light gel or fluid textures, whereas those with dry skin can use richer creams that also double as a moisturiser. Sensitive skin types may find that mineral sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are better than those with chemical filters.
Ensure a minimum of SPF 30
For many, there’s a lack of clarity on what SPF and its numerical value means. Sun protection factor (SPF) is only a measure of the ability of a sunscreen to protect against UVB radiation. The British Association of Dermatologists recommends always using a minimum of SPF 30, which blocks 97% of UVB rays. To put that into context, SPF 15 blocks 93% and SPF 50 blocks 98%. No sunscreen gives 100% protection against the sun.
How to apply sunscreen correctly
Sunscreen should always be the last product applied to the skin before makeup, and it should be left to dry for three to five minutes before your foundation. To ensure you’re applying enough of your sunscreen, think of a dessert spoon size (or the length of two fingers). We have become so focused on how high the SPF is that we rarely pay attention to whether we’re applying it correctly. You must cover the eyelids and lips and take it right up to the tops of the ears and down the neck for full coverage protection.