Weather that's warmer than the Costa Del Sol feels like a rarity in Britain, so you're forgiven if you've been basking in the garden without proper precautions.
It’s also true that there’s a lot to get your head around with understanding SPF And getting it right. For example, knowing that sun cream has a shelf life and that last year’s leftovers may well be out of date and not performing properly. But with more sunny spells on the way it’s time to get sun smart in the UK. Here is the best advice for avoiding sunburn and how to treat sunburn if you do get caught out.
What is sunburn?
In a word: Damage. When your skin is exposed to UV radiation it releases melanin, a dark pigment which essentially acts like little umbrellas in the top layer of your skin to try and block and minimise damage to the deeper cellular layers. Depending on how much melanin you naturally have in your skin, this may appear as a tan or your skin cells will become inflamed and red, which is a sunburn.
These cells can sometimes collect in groups on the skin’s surface, which is where we see pigmentation and age spots, or in more severe cases melasma, It’s worth noting that there is no real distinction here between those who go pink and those who go brown – if your skin is changing colour in the sun it is because it is being damaged. While darker skin tones with higher levels of melanin present do have more natural protection, there really is no such thing as a healthy tan (with the notable exception of self tan, of course). Sun damage is linked to skin cancer and cancerous moles.
What’s the difference between UVA and UVB rays?
Ultraviolet light can be split into two types; UV A and B, both can affect your skin in a negative way. An easy way to remember is A causes ageing and B causes burning. Traditionally we’ve focused on UVB rays, as they cause most skin cancers, but UVA rays are powerful enough to penetrate cloud and glass windows and, unlike UVB, get through the Ozone layer too. This means about 95% of UV rays that reach the ground are UVA, so it’s crucial to take precautions even on a cloudy day.
Can you get sunburn in the UK?
Absolutely! We’ve all been there: Old enough to know better yet pinker than your summer nail colour thanks to some unexpectedly strong sunshine. You know the rules – pick a high factor SPF, reapply often – but did you realise how your surroundings contribute? ‘There are certain surface types that reflect UV light and therefore cause greater damage to the skin,’ explains Lloyds Pharmacy pharmacist Pareena Patel. ‘Dry beach sand can reflect up to 15% of radiation and sea foam 25%. If you’re spending the day by the sea at home or away, ensure you regularly re-apply sun lotion. You should also reapply every time you towel dry after swimming, even if it claims to be water resistant.’
How to prevent sunburn
Of course, we always recommend wearing SPF with both UVA and UVB protection. There are so many good brands these days but speak to any beauty Editor and chances are she’ll have a soft spot for La Roche Posay and Heliocare. both brands make some of the most reliable protection in the loveliest textures you’ll actually enjoy wearing.
Heliocare 360 Invisible Spray SPF50, £17.29
This brand is something of a cult favourite among beauty insiders for their brilliant formulations in every texture imaginable – creams, gels and this ungreasy mist. It must be one of the lightest high factor formulas going and works on the face and body, under or over makeup so is ideal for those midday top-ups even fastidious SPF wearers tend to forget.
La Roche Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Pocket Sun Cream, £7.50
A weightless and non-comedogenic (non pore clogging) cream that comes in the tiniest, cutest little case. Obviously adorableness isn’t the USP, its pocket-friendliness in the truest sense of the word, you could literally stick this in a shirt pocket without causing a bump meaning there is no excuse not to have it on you at all times, and you’ll be far less likely to be caught out by unexpected sunshine.
Some people such as those with paler skin, freckles, moles are more at risk and should take extra precautions and avoid the sun entirely at the hottest parts of the day. If you know you’re going to be outside for long periods of time, you should always take precautions against sunburn. The risk of burning is highest between March to October in the UK, and particularly between 11am and 3pm. You can minimise this by:
- Wearing a hat. The scalp is often oneof the first places to burn, but a wide-brimmed hat with keep it covered and shade your face, nose and ears.
- Wearing sunglasses. Choose a quality pair, look for the CE mark to protect your eyes from UV rays. These are some of our favourite places to buy prescription sunglasses.
- Keeping covered. Opt for long sleeves legs and full-length trousers in thin, breatheable fabrics to keep you cool.
- Applying sunscren twice. Once 30 minutes before going out, and again immediately prior to going into the sun.
How to treat sunburn
Even if you are being super careful, sunburn happens. If you’re suffering the after-effects of too much sun, there are ways to treat sunburn to help ease pain and minimise damage. Start by knowing when you’ve had enough sun. If your skin feels hot, it’s important to head indoors as soon as possible. Then follow the offficial NHS advice to help relieve symptoms:
- Cool the skin by sponging it with cold water or by having a cold bath or shower – applying a cold compress such as a cold flannel to the affected area may also help.
- Drink plenty of fluids to cool down and prevent dehydration.
- Apply a water-based emollient or petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) to keep your skin cool and moist.
- Take painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol to relieve any pain – aspirin should not be given to children under 16.
In case of an emergency
Worried that your sunburn is severe? You should seek further medical advice if you have blistering or swelling, chills, a high temperature, dizziness, headaches or sickness.
The best products to cool, calm and treat sunburn
If you do get caught out, avoid after sun products with cooling ingredients like menthol, which feel temporarily nice but can actually be drying in the long run. There are some great post-sun products out there, but sometimes a well-formulated body lotion can actually be better than gimmicky and overpriced after suns on the marker. Here are our favourite products to hydrate and speed up repair from sunburn.
Vaseline Intensive Care Aloe Soothe, £5.99
The NHS recommends using emollient ingredients on sunburn, and this is packed with them. It contains micro droplets of vaseline within a light lotion formula, this means you get the dual benefit of rich hydration but quick absorption.
Palmers Natural Vitamin E Body Lotion, £6
Fragrance free and non-irritating, this deeply moisturises frazzled skin with cocoa butter and various natural oils. Vitamin E is great ingredient to look out for as it has antioxidant properties, meaning it can strengthen your skin’s natural defence against the sun and boost cellular repair.
Banana Boat Aloe Vera After Sun Lotion, £5.50
Aloe vera is a classic skin-soothing ingredient due to its hydrating and anti-inflammatory benefits. This Banana Boat Aftersun has a light and refreshing feel that’s even better if you keep it in the fridge.
Vichy Ideal Soleil Body After Sun SOS Balm, £11.50
Vichy’s after-sun is rich in vitamin E and omega-3 and -6 oils, and its skin-soothing and moisturising properties last for up to 48 hours. A great option for sensitive skin.
Nivea In-Shower Body Moisturiser for Dry Skin, £2
If rich hydrators that stay on the skin aren’t for you, this unique in-shower moisturiser is a great option. Apply it as the last step in your shower, rinse and gently pat dry with a towel for softened and soothed skin but no residue.