Beauty
26.Apr.2016

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SPF, UVA, UVB AND EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SUNSCREEN

Warm days makes us happier. Long evenings with friends at the park; Cocktails and Pimm’s at the pub; and highly planned, yet surprising weekends in a Greek or Spanish beach. Summer offers it all but it also demands more caution with your skin. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy milder temperatures outdoors, however if you want to keep your skin healthy you’re better off using sunscreen. And that’s where the dilemma starts: do you really know what it means SPF, UVA, UVB or what’s a chemical or physical filter?

As a matter of fact, most of us are not aware of what kind of sun protection we should look for or even what is SPF. For instance, only 8% of 2,000 British adults recently surveyed by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society knew what SPF rating stands for. But, fear not: we researched everything you need to know about sunscreen and clear it up for you.

UVA x UVB

UVA and UVB, or ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B, are the two types of damaging rays emitted by the Sun that reach Earth’s surface – UVC rays are absorbed previously by Earth’s atmosphere, and they don’t come any near us. UVB rays are the main cause of reddening and sunburn; they play a major, decisive role in the development of cancer and they directly harm our DNA.

UVA rays lead to skin’s premature ageing, inducing dark spots, enlargement of blood vessels, and wrinkles. Indirectly, they also damage our DNA as they easily penetrate the epidermis. Although UVA rays are less harsh than UVB rays, they’re able to prompt cancer as well.

It’s worth mentioning that UVA rays can pass through window glass, whereas UVB rays are mainly blocked by it. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UVA rays present approximately equal intensity throughout the year and they account for 95% of the UV radiation that reach us.

SPF

SPF literally means sun protection factor. Although it sounds pretty clear, most of us don’t know what SPF really is or even that it protects us only from UVB rays. A high SPF rating does not imply full-spectrum protection as it does not block UVA rays, which are usually rated by stars (five-star products deliver the highest percentage of UVA protection).

Interestingly, the SPF rating is measured by how long it takes for UVB rays to reach and burn our skin. For instance, someone using a sunscreen rated SPF 15 will take 15 times longer to redden than someone not wearing any kind of sun protection. The difference between SPF 15, 30 or 50 is not big though: a SPF 15 blocks 93% of sun’s UVB rays, whereas SPF 30 and 50 protects us against 97% and 98%, respectively.

“No sunscreen can block 100% of sun’s rays”, warns the American Academy of Dermatology via its website, also alerting that “high-number SPFs last the same amount of time as low-number SPFs”. Here in the UK, as in Australia and the US, brands can’t label their products higher than SPF 50+.

PHYSICAL PROTECTION x CHEMICAL PROTECTION

Sun protection can be achieved via chemical or physical sunscreens. Products formulated with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are physical blockers. They work by reflecting UV light away from our skin and they offer full-spectrum coverage. Chemical filters are usually made with active ingredients such as metoxyl, triazine and several others ending with -benzone and -salate (i.e., oxybenzone, dioxybenzone, and homosalate). A chemical sunscreen work by forming a protective layer on the epidermis; it absorbs the UV light before it penetrates the skin.

Often chemical sunscreens sink faster on the skin and dry transparently, whereas physical sunblocks usually leave a light, thin white film on it but are more suitable for sensitive skin. Despite chemical sunscreens being abosrbed quicker they need to be applied at least 20 minutes before you go outdoors. Keep in mind you should reapply sunscreen every two hours though – it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a physical or a chemical filter, they don’t retain their effectiveness longer than two hours.

CREAM, GEL OR SPRAY?

Texture-wise, sunscreen is generally manufactured as a cream, gel or spray. The best texture however is the one suits you best, it’s a matter of personal choice. If your skin is blemish-prone or dry, we would recommend creams, especially for the face. Sprays are good for wilder areas, such as arms, chest and legs, while gel-like products are perfect for hairy areas.

Regardless of which texture you choose, make sure your sunscreen is water-resistant and has full-spectrum coverage.

On the gallery below we enlisted our favourite face sunscreens:

  • The Active 99.0 Anti-Aging Series UV Protect SPF 3 (£24.75), by Bliss, is an hybrid sunscreen, which means it contains a mixture of chemical and physical active ingredients. Texture-wise, it's a lightweight, non-greasy lotion that glides easily on the skin. It works beautifully as a base for makeup, and it's suitable for all healthy skin types. Available at blissworld.com/ ©BlissThe Active 99.0 Anti-Aging Series UV Protect SPF 3 (£24.75), by Bliss, is an hybrid sunscreen, which means it contains a mixture of chemical and physical active ingredients. Texture-wise, it's a lightweight, non-greasy lotion that glides easily on the skin. It works beautifully as a base for makeup, and it's suitable for all healthy skin types. Available at blissworld.com/ ©Bliss
  • Dermalogica's Ultra Sensitive Tint SPF 30 (£33.65) is a physical sunscreen that is formulated with 11% of titanium dioxide. It also contains lavender, orange, grapefuit and thyme oils and several plant extracts, such as grape seed and green tea. It has a sheer tint that offsets the white cast titanium dioxide usually leaves behind. Available at dermalogica.co.uk ©DermalogicaDermalogica's Ultra Sensitive Tint SPF 30 (£33.65) is a physical sunscreen that is formulated with 11% of titanium dioxide. It also contains lavender, orange, grapefuit and thyme oils and several plant extracts, such as grape seed and green tea. It has a sheer tint that offsets the white cast titanium dioxide usually leaves behind. Available at dermalogica.co.uk ©Dermalogica
  • Emma Hardie's recently launched Protect and Prime SPF 30 (£45) works gorgeously as a primer, and provides broad-spectrum protection for all skin types. It's produced with oxybenzone and titanium dioxide as active ingredients but its formula is also enriched with shea butter, mongongo oil, oat extract and vitamin E. Available at emmahardie.com/  ©Emma HardieEmma Hardie's recently launched Protect and Prime SPF 30 (£45) works gorgeously as a primer, and provides broad-spectrum protection for all skin types. It's produced with oxybenzone and titanium dioxide as active ingredients but its formula is also enriched with shea butter, mongongo oil, oat extract and vitamin E. Available at emmahardie.com/ ©Emma Hardie
  • La Roche-Posay's Anthelios XL SPF 50+ (£12.75) Fluid sinks very quickly on the skin as its texture is incredibly light. It works perfectly when applied before makeup, and it offers broad-spectrum protection. Its formula, which is water-resistant and fragrance-free, is suitable for normal to combination skin but it goes with sensitive skin as well. Available at laroche-posay.co.uk ©La Roche-PosayLa Roche-Posay's Anthelios XL SPF 50+ (£12.75) Fluid sinks very quickly on the skin as its texture is incredibly light. It works perfectly when applied before makeup, and it offers broad-spectrum protection. Its formula, which is water-resistant and fragrance-free, is suitable for normal to combination skin but it goes with sensitive skin as well. Available at laroche-posay.co.uk ©La Roche-Posay
  • The Wild Rose Moisturising SPF 30 (£25), by Neal's Yard Remedies, is beautifully formulated with zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, shea butter, beeswax, rosehip oil and vitamin E. In fact, it's 100% naturally delivered, which makes it ideal for sensitive and reactive skin types. Although its texture is slightly greasy, it can be effortlessly used as base for makeup. Available at nealsyardremedies.com ©Neal's Yard RemediesThe Wild Rose Moisturising SPF 30 (£25), by Neal's Yard Remedies, is beautifully formulated with zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, shea butter, beeswax, rosehip oil and vitamin E. In fact, it's 100% naturally delivered, which makes it ideal for sensitive and reactive skin types. Although its texture is slightly greasy, it can be effortlessly used as base for makeup. Available at nealsyardremedies.com ©Neal's Yard Remedies
  • The Ultra Light Daily Defense SPF 50+++ (£35), by Kiehl's, is creamy, yet lightweight and it hydrates and protects the skin against UVA and UVB rays. It works utterly well under foundation, and its oil-free formula is suitable for all skin types. Available at kiehls.co.uk/ ©Kiehl'sThe Ultra Light Daily Defense SPF 50+++ (£35), by Kiehl's, is creamy, yet lightweight and it hydrates and protects the skin against UVA and UVB rays. It works utterly well under foundation, and its oil-free formula is suitable for all skin types. Available at kiehls.co.uk/ ©Kiehl's
  • Vichy's Idéal Soleil Mattifying Face Dry Touch SPF 50+ (£16.50) delivers a matte, yet healthy finish for oily or combination skin. For those with dry skin, the brand offers a very good option as well: Vichy Idéal Soleil Velvety Face Cream SPF 50+. Available at Boots ©VichyVichy's Idéal Soleil Mattifying Face Dry Touch SPF 50+ (£16.50) delivers a matte, yet healthy finish for oily or combination skin. For those with dry skin, the brand offers a very good option as well: Vichy Idéal Soleil Velvety Face Cream SPF 50+. Available at Boots ©Vichy