Is your SPF really working for you?

Updated: May 7, 2020

Do ever come inside from the sun and notice sunburn despite numerous attempts to reapply sunblock throughout the day? Are you suffering with reoccurring sun damage concerns like hyperpigmentation or broken veins? It may just be the case that your SPF isn’t working for you properly and in this article I explain why, and how to decipher a good sunblock from a bad one.

What is an SPF?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and its role in skincare is to protect the skin from the sun’s rays. The word SPF, is always followed by a number on packaging, which indicates the level of protection given. For example if it takes you 20 minutes to burn from exposure to the sun, then an SPF30 is supposed to protect you for 30 times longer than your burning time.

Why do I need to protect my skin?

UVA rays are a long-wave light and are though to contribute mostly to sun damage and cell ageing. These rays are present all day and all year, even when cloudy, hence why it is advised to wear an SPF daily, no matter the weather or season. UVB rays are considered more harmful due to the high risk of developing skin cancer; responsible for tanning and/or burning the skin and linked with noticeably surface skin damage like hyperpigmentation.

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What kind of SPF should I use?

To understand what the right SPF is for you, there are a few things to understand first. Firstly there are two types of SPF: mineral and chemical…

Wait, what are chemical and mineral SPFs?!

A chemical SPF works by converting the UV rays into heat to release them from the skin. Often, chemical SPFs will use toxic ingredients like Octinoxate and endocrine (hormone) disrupter, Oxybenzone. Also, Vitamin A is present in a lot of chemical formulations which leads to a greater risk of further photoreaction as it sensitises the skin. A chemical SPF often 20 minutes to develop and become effective, whilst further top-up is advised throughout the day.

A mineral (or physical) SPF tends to be a thicker consistency, but non-clogging in comparison to a chemical SPF. This type of sunscreen promises to provide UVA and UVB protect instantly, without the high risk of skin irritation. Zinc oxide and Titanium Dioxide are the ingredients often used in such products, and promise a longer shelf-life too.

So, a mineral SPF is a safer choice than chemical SPF?

Based on current evidence, yes. There is ongoing debate amongst scientists about the general guidelines of suitable protection against the sun’s rays. Fact, both physical and chemical SPFs will protect you, but a physical SPF is considered more preferable due to the lack of toxic ingredients and better protection performance.

How do I know if my sunscreen protects me from UVA and UVB rays?

All SPFs will present a UVA Star Rating System on the packaging, showing a number from 0-5 (0 indicating a poor protection and 5 rating excellent). The number shown, indicates the percentage of UVA absorbed into the skin in comparison to UVB. So, if you choose an SPF15 and it has 5 stars, it’s because the ratio of UVA and UVB absorption are the same. If the product contains the word ‘broad-spectrum’ this indicates that you are getting both UVA and UVB protection from this SPF.

And remember, numbers aren’t everything…

Checking the type of UV protection using this UVA Star Rating System, is more significant than the number that follows from the word ‘SPF.’ A lot of us are not aware of the fact that there is only a 5% difference in levels of protection between and SPF15 and SPF50 (see below.)

How about the SPF in my moisturiser, is this effective?

The SPF in your moisturiser should never be relied upon for adequate UV protection for a few reasons. Make-up tends to be applied more thinly than an SPF, and cosmetics are often made to be non-rub-resistant or water-resistant in comparison to how most SPF products are designed to be. Many moisturisers containing SPF are well-known for not containing UVA protection.

The SPFs I recommend to my clients are…

Here are just a few of my favourite broad-spectrum SPFs that I often recommend to my clients in the clinic.

See products: (from left to right) Heliocare Advanced XF gel SPF 50, Dermaquest Sheerzinc SPF 30, Skinceuticals Mineral Radiance UV Defence, Colorescience Sunforgettable SPF 50

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Key points to choosing what SPF is right for you

#skincarerecommendations #sunprotection #sundamage #SPF #UVinformation #mineralSPF

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