With the promise of Summer and long sunny days within our reach we should be considering how to best take care of our skin to avoid sun damage and minimise photo-aging. With recent reports coming to light that sun exposure is required for Vitamin D production, it is difficult to know when to use sunscreen and how often. The following is a guide to all you should know about sunscreens.

The purpose of sunscreen is to protect your skin from burning when exposed to the sun. Even though we get limited amounts of sunshine here in Ireland it is still important to wear SPF daily to avoid accumulating damage over the years. Once your skin has had a sunburn your cells remember that damage and every time you’re exposed to sunlight that damage is reinforced. It is important to wear SPF daily, even when cloudy. The damaging UV rays can still penetrate the clouds and age the skin, so although the sun does not feel hot or look like it is changing colour, it is having any effect on the skin. The UV rays are penetrating the skin and reinforcing old damage that might have happen years previously. The skin remembers that damage and is constantly weakened by the regular exposure to UV rays. It is a common misconception that darker skin types shouldn’t be concerned, everyone is at risk even darker skin types. Although, lighter skin will be more at risk at developing cancer.


Chemical v’s Physical Sunscreen.

There are two different types of sunscreen Chemical and Physical.

Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays and transforms them so that the skin does not absorb them, whereas a Physical block prevents the solar rays from penetrating the skin by reflecting them. A chemical sunscreen will tend to be more reactive on sensitive skins due to the chemicals, and they cannot emit all UV rays, some rays will still penetrate the skin. A physical block will not penetrate the skin and therefore tends to cause fewer problems for sensitive/ reactive skin. The ingredient Zinc oxide gives the most extensive protection from UV rays, look for this ingredient in your SPF. It is recommended to ensure that your sunscreen has a UVA and UVB protection. Although UVA won’t necessarily cause your skin to burn, it has a damaging effect on the skins DNA.

What about Vitamin D?

In order to produce Vitamin D from sunlight you are required to expose a portion of  your skin  for 5-10 mins every other day to get adequate amounts. You can build up your Vitamin D stocks between early Spring to late Summer with this kind of exposure while living in Ireland, and these stocks will last into the following year. However, it is recommended to supplement Vitamin D for a few months at the beginning of the year. Trying to build your Vitamin D  levels in a week long holiday in the Marbella, is not recommended and will usually cause sun damage!

Waterproof SPF

Keep in mind that no sunscreen is completely waterproof. If the cream remains active after 40mins of exposure to water the FDA classes it as ‘ water resistant’, 80 mins of activity earns it ‘very water resistant’. The key is not to depend on the sunscreen once you have towelled off and are out of the water, reapply after every visit to the water. If your children are anything like mine and want to spend the entire day in and out of the pool while on holidays, you need to reapply every 2 hours.

What Strength Should I Use?

Another misconception is that SPF 30 is twice as protective as SPF 15. The reality is that SPF 15 gives you 93% redness protection, while SPF 30 gives you 97% redness protection. Redness protection being the amount of time before your skin starts to turn red from the sun. As the SPF number increases above 30 the amount of protection given begins to fall off quite rapidly. An SPF over 50  gives no more meaningful protection than SPF 50. Above SPF30 the increase percentage is minimal, instead there is a longer period of time before the sunburn takes place.

How well a sunscreen formula filters the UV rays is as follows:

  • SPF 2 blocks about 50% of UVB rays.
  • SPF 10 blocks about 85% of UVB rays.
  • SPF 15 blocks about 95% of UVB rays.
  • SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays

In a nutshell you need to apply sunscreen generously and often, and here is the key…..it HAS to be applied generously to get the protection. If you apply a thin layer of SPF 30 in reality you are only getting 3% protection. The correct amount of SPF to apply is no less than 2mg per cm2 of skin surface area. An idea of how much that is would be to let’s say for example you are on a sun holiday, you should apply 32gr for one whole body application based on the average size woman or 38gr on an averaged size man. Doing this three times a day would mean using 96g bottle for a woman or 114g for a man. You can of course use other means to protect yourself by seeking shelter in midday sun, wear long sleeves, long skirt/trousers, wide brimmed hats and BIG sunglasses….Victoria Beckham has the right idea, she is onto something with those big sunglasses!