All your SPF questions answered – including the best products to use

Don’t know your UVA from your UVB? Don’t worry. Read on for your no-nonsense guide to sun cream to help you stay safe in the sun...
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  • Now that the sun has finally started to make an appearance again, we're all back to reaching for our sunscreen.

    Of course, once we realised why it was important to continue wearing SPF during lockdown, we made sure to put on a layer or two everyday.

    But now that the sunny weather seems like it’s here to say, it’s more important than ever to make sure that our skin is protected.

    And with so many SPF products now on the market and so many different terms always being thrown at us, sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what we really need for our skin.

    So we’ve broken down what all the different sunscreen terms mean and have even picked out some of our favourite products for you to try out during the coming sunny weeks.

    Everything you need to know about SPF products

    What does SPF stand for?

    • SPF: Stands for Sun Protection Factor. The number signals how often you need to reapply to avoid burning from UVB rays.
    • UVA: Think A for ageing, these pesky rays are present all year round, travelling through cloud and glass to penetrate deep into skin.
    • UVB: Think B for burning, UVB rays vary in intensity depending on the weather. You’re most at risk in the UK during spring and summer, when the sun is highest in the sky.
    • Broad spectrum: Refers to sun lotions that shield skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

    Your SPF questions answered

    1. You still need SPF in the UK

    ‘While we may be more likely to get sunburnt in hotter climates, the risks from UVA damage in the UK is present all year round,’ explains skin health specialist Dr Anita Sturnham.

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    2. Sun cream has a sell-by date

    The average shelf life of sun cream is 6 to twelve months after opening.

    Leave your bottles in direct sunlight or high temperatures and their potency dissolves even faster.

    3. SPF make-up isn’t enough

    Your foundation might promise an SPF, ‘however, by the very nature of their intended use, they’re applied a in far smaller quantities, and therefore are often not providing the same level of protection as ‘pure’ sunscreens,’ explains skincare expert and Ultrasun UK MD, Abi Cleeve.

    4. SPF application is important

    Heading out in the sunshine? Apply your sun cream ahead of time to avoid burning.

    ‘Do it first thing, do it indoors and apply plenty,’ says Abi Cleeve. ‘Any application in direct sunlight increases evaporation and up to 60% of protection can be lost.’

    5. SPF is essential with strong skincare ingredients

    Ingredients that chemically exfoliate, like AHAs and BHAs, or speed up cell turnover, like retinol, can make skin more sensitive to sun damage.

    Apply SPF every day and limit these punchier ingredients to nighttime use.

    6. Wearing SPF won’t stop your body absorbing vitamin D

    According to a 2019 study by the British Journal of Dermatology, ‘using daily broad‐spectrum sunscreens with high UVA protection will not compromise vitamin D status in healthy people.’

    The dangers of sun exposure far outweigh its benefits, so slather on that sunscreen.

    7. What’s the difference between chemical and mineral SPF?

    As the name suggests, chemical sunscreens use chemicals to absorb UV rays.

    Mineral, or physical, lotions sit on top of skin, reflecting away the suns rays. If your skin is sensitive, physical SPF is the best option.

    8. Sun exposure can lead to pigmentation

    As we hit the menopause, our melanin cells can produce pigmentation too quickly, leading to a rise in so-called ‘age’ or ‘sun’ spots.

    Vitamin C will help fade existing marks, while strong daily SPFs will stop new ones from forming.

    9. Why after sun is necessary too

    ‘The biggest benefit from aftersun is its high water content which cools and hydrates,’ says Candice Gardner, Education Manager at Dermalogica.

    10. A sunburn won’t lead to a tan

    Trauma tanners, listen up! ‘A tan from inadequate protection that occurs too fast only causes the skin to burn and shed, leaving you tanless in days,’ advises Abi Cleeve.

    To deepen those tan lines safely, try a formula that speeds up the process.

    Best SPF sunscreen products