Understanding Sun Protection

Understanding Sunscreen – What You Should Look For

With the heatwave in full swing, it’s more important than ever to apply sun cream to keep your skin safe. When searching for the sun protection, you quickly realise that buying sun cream can be confusing as there are so many choices.

Do you buy the one with SPF 15 or 60?  How much should you apply?  And what exactly does “broad-spectrum” mean?

In what follows, you will get the answers as to what you should look for in a sunscreen:

  1. Broad-Spectrum

Broad-spectrum sun creams protect your skin from the sun’s two main types of ultraviolet rays – UVA (the dominant tanning ray) and UVB (known to cause burning).  Neither one is safe though, as they both contribute to aging in your skin and eyes, as well as skin cancers.

So if you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, you will be protecting your skin from burning, skin cancer, wrinkling and other ageing of the skin.

  1. Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

The SPF refers to the level of blockage against UVB (it does not include UVA) rays that the sunscreen provides.  So the higher the SPF is, the longer you can stay in the sun before you burn.  For example, a SPF 30 means you can stay in the sun longer before you burn than if you are using a sunscreen with SPF 15.  However, this does NOT mean that you can stay in the sun twice as long.  Instead, it means that the SPF 30 would block out approximately 97% of the UVB rays, and a SPF 15 would block out approximately 94% of UVB rays.

If you are highly sensitive to the sun, then you will want to use sun cream with higher SPF.  However, those sunscreens with SPF 100, for example, will not block 100% of the UVB rays.  No sunscreen does that.  Many Dermatologists recommend their patients use products with SPF ratings of 30-45, if they will be spending extended time outdoors.  Products with SPF 15 can be effective for incidental sun exposure, and can be found in many face moisturisers.

  1. Water Resistance

If you will be swimming or active, you want something that stays on your skin better and that is less likely to drip in your eyes. Children should always wear a water resistant sun cream if they spend a lot of time in water.


Once you buy your sunscreen, there are a couple things that you need to know about how to apply it:

  1. Slather It On

Most people do not put enough sunscreen on.  The SPF level you get from your sunscreen will depend on how thick you put on your sunscreen.  The less sunscreen you put on, the less protection your skin is actually getting.

A good guideline for adults is to use 1.5 tablespoons to cover the whole body.

  1. Put it on before you go outdoors

If you are heading out for the day make sure you are protected by putting on your sun cream at least 30 minutes prior. It takes time for the sunscreen to absorb into the skin and begin working properly.

  1. Reapply often

No matter what level of SPF you are using, you should always reapply your sunscreen every 90 minutes to two hours. If you are active, engaging in swimming or sports and are wet or sweating you should reapply sooner.

Top tips from the NHS

  • Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
  • Make sure you never burn
  • Cover up with suitable clothing and sunglasses
  • Take extra care with children
  • Use at least factor 15 sunscreen

You can find further details and tips on the NHS Choices website.

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