The ABC of SPF

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We need to think about our application of sun protection say the experts.

Are people in Ireland good when it comes to adequate sun protection?
“No we are not great,” says Denise Cantwell, Eau Thermale Avène Area Manager. “The main reason is, because we don’t get a lot of sun in Ireland most people only associate using sun screen with holiday time. As a result, we are unsure of what the correct SPF for our skin type is, what formula and texture we should choose and how frequently we should reapply our sun screen. Ideally, we should all be using SPF as part of our daily skincare routine. Even if its not particularly sunny out our skin will still suffer from the damaging effects of “daylight” UVA and UVB rays.”

What’s the difference between UVA and UVB rays?
“UVA rays penetrate deep in to the skin and can travel through glass causing sun allergies and accelerated skin ageing, whereas UVB rays are more dangerous, blocked by glass but cause sunburn and skin cancer in the long term,” says Denise from Eau Thermale Avène.

When and how often should you apply sun cream? And how much?
“One should use enough sunscreen to generously coat all of the skin which is not protected by clothing,” says Dr Niki Ralph, La Roche-Posay consultant dermatologist. “It should be applied approximately 15 minutes before going outdoors to dry skin. Essentially an easy way to remember is that 1 ounce is the required amount needed to cover exposed areas of the body.”

Should you use more or a different type if you’re sporty?
“You don't need to apply more sunscreen with each application if you are sporty, however you are more likely to sweat therefore you should reapply the sunscreen more frequently and ensure the sunscreen has broad spectrum cover against UVA and UVB rays and also that it is water proof,” says Dr Ralph from La Roche-Posay.

Does absorption of sun cream take time? How long does it take to work? 
“Whilst the sun filters we use will protect against the sun immediately they are applied, we always recommend applying fifteen minutes before going out into the sun,” says Clare O’Connor, Soltan UV Technical expert. “This allows the sunscreen to dry before you go outside, helping to prevent it being rubbed off by clothing. Spending this time making sure it is applied evenly and liberally helping to ensure ‘no missed bits.’ It is good practice to do this rather than travel to your destination and then apply your sunscreen after you have already received some sun exposure.”

Is infrared protection necessary? 
“Whilst scientific studies have demonstrated that infrared can damage skin cells in a laboratory environment, the doses used to illicit the damage were incredibly high and not relevant to the exposure we actually receive from sunlight,” says Clare from Soltan. “The most damaging rays by far in sunlight are UVB and UVA.  Always choose a high SPF with a Five star UVA rating. For extra protection look for antioxidant ingredients.”

Should you apply sunscreen when in the sun?
“A physical sunscreen will protect you from the sun as soon as it's applied, no wait needed,” says Caroline Casey, Head Trainer at IMAGE skincare. “This is because it contains active mineral ingredients that sit on top of the skin to deflect and scatter damaging UV rays away from the skin. A physical sunscreen is better for those with heat activated skin such as rosacea and redness and is less likely to clog pores so great for breakout skins. I recommend Prevention + daily hydrating moisturizer SPF 30 for dry/dehydrated sensitive skins and Prevention + daily tinted moisturiser SPF 30 for all skin types but great for oily skins as it is oil free. “A chemical sunscreen needs to be applied 20 mins before heading out into the sun so the skin can absorb the cream fully. If you wait until you are in the sun then your skin is unprotected and you can burn. A chemical sunscreen allows for higher SPF protection - 50 and other beneficial ingredients for the skin.”

Where are the sensitive spots on the body when to apply sunscreen?
“When in the sun apply sunscreen every two hours and even more regularly on sensitive or sweaty areas,” says Caroline of IMAGE skincare. “Image Skincare have pure mineral body sunscreen sprays (aerosols) in both SPF 30 (physical) and SPF 50 (chemical and water resistant) that make it easy to reapply often and with no mess.”

Which SPF should be used on holidays?
“SPF, or sun protection factor, is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from UV,” says Imane Ben Salem, Bioderma expert. “It depends on the skin type and also on the sun intensity. However, we do recommend using SPF 50+ and a child-specific SPF for children. We recommend reapplying every two hours, and if you are on holidays it is important to reapply after swimming or perspiring excessively.”

How can I tell if a sun cream has adequate UVA protection?
“UVA is present constantly from sunrise to sunset,” says Imane from Bioderma. “In the skin, UVA is responsible of photoageing (actinic ageing). By penetrating in the dermis, the UV alters the collagen and elastin fibres accelerate the skin ageing considerably. They are also one of the causes of developing a skin cancer. Sun protection products from Laboratoire BIODERMA provide a higher level of UVA protection than that recommended by European regulations. To claim UVA photoprotection, European regulations stipulate that the (SPF/UVA) RATIO must be ≤ 3. It means that for a product with an SPF of 15, the UVA protection index must be at least 5. The closer to 1 this RATIO is, the higher the UVB/UVA protection is (ideally the UVA and UVB protection factor should be identical). Laboratoire BIODERMA's sun protection products have a RATIO of approximately 1.5/1.8; some products even have a RATIO of 1. Therefore they provide optimal broad-spectrum protection. The UVA index is also clearly displayed on the packaging.”

Are ‘once a day’ creams effective or safe?
“Once a day sun creams are adequate if you apply a generous amount of sun cream and leave it to bind with the skin for 20 mins before exposing your skin to uv rays provided that you don’t come into contact with anything that could cause the cream to wear off,” says Bronwyn Conway, Training Manager for Clarins. “Generally when we are applying SPF we are sweating, swimming, drying the skin with a towel etc so inevitably the protection is wearing away.  I would always recommend that suncream be topped up during the day as I don’t feel that the suncreams could possibly offer the same protection after being immersed in water and towel dried.”

Is sun cream waterproof?
“When suncreams are water proof it generally means sweat resistant, chlorine and sea water will reduce the level of protection that the cream is giving so as malignant melanoma is on the rise I would always air on the side of caution and reapply to be on the safe side,” says Brownyn from Clarins. “There is no such thing as a total sun block so hat, t-shirt and staying out of the mid-day sun is still essential for protecting the skin from photo ageing.”

Aine Toner