A short guide to sunscreen, SPF numbers and UV ratings
Thursday, July 13th, 2017 | Blog
A recent poll for the Met Office and NHS England found ‘Four in 10 UK parents wrongly believe a sun tan is healthy’. When coupled with a worrying 119% increase in the rate of melanoma cases since the early 90s, it seems that there may be still confusion about the short and long-term harm caused by the sun to our skin.
When we're out and about, it’s easy to forget just how powerful the sun is. Even when the skies are full of cloud and we're not getting the benefits of the sun's warmth, UVA rays are still harming our skin.
Sunscreen is essential when preparing to enjoy some time outdoors during the summer months. Not only to avoid an immediate sun burn from UVB (ultra violet short rays) but also to stop longer-term damage – including skin cancer from UVA (ultra violet rays). However, the sheer volume of sunscreen choice available can be quite overwhelming and knowing which product offers the best protection can be minefield.
Sunscreens in the UK are labelled with a sun protection factor (SPF) ranging from 2-50+, with 50+ offering a longer period of protection. A common misconception is that the SPF rating dictates the level of protection there is against UV rays, this is incorrect as the rating instead indicates the period that the protection lasts for. An SPF rating of 5 offers the same amount of protection compared to an SPF of 50, but SPF 5 will need to be reapplied more often.
To help consumers in the UK quickly identify which products offer the best protection against UVA, a star system must feature on the packaging. Stars range from 0-5 with 5 indicating the highest level of UVA absorbed by the product. Put simply, a high level of SPF and a star rating of 5 will offer the greatest level of protection against both UVB and UVA – but it is still possible to have a high SPF and a low UVA and vice versa.
If you’re using an opened bottle of sunscreen, it is worth checking the use-by date or use with-in opening logo. Sunscreen loses its effectiveness over time and won’t give you the same protection. If you have any doubt about how long you’ve had a bottle of sunscreen, It may be worth investing a new one.
Applying sunscreen can often be a messy affair, especially when reluctant little people are involved and particularly when you mix in some sand for good measure! Obviously, body size will determine exactly how much is needed but this handy guide gives a simple solution to ensure you and your family are protected whilst enjoying hazy summer days:
Face: 1/4 teaspoon of sunscreen
Neck (front and back): 1/4 teaspoon of sunscreen
Arms: 1/2 teaspoon of sunscreen per arm
Legs: 1 teaspoon of sunscreen per leg
Chest: 1 teaspoon of sunscreen
UV rays can also penetrate our eyes and sun damage has been linked to age-related macular degeneration, which is a major cause of blindness in the UK. All sunglasses sold in the UK and Europe must have UVA protective lenses, to ensure your glasses are safe, check that they carry a British Standard Mark or a CE UV 400 certification.
When you’re enjoying the sun, keep hydrated (try to avoid caffeine), drinking plenty of fluids will help you from overheating and protect against sunstroke.
Enjoy the summer sun, but take care those UVB and UVA rays are stronger than they may seem,