Table of Contents
Summer so just around the corner, and whether you’re jetting off to warmer climates, or enjoying the sun from your own back garden you're going to need sun cream. We’ve armed ourselves with information about sun lotion and how to make sure you stay safe whilst enjoying the weather.
There’s a lot of choices these days when it comes to choosing sun lotion, and the different terms that are used don’t help matters when you’re just wanting to choose a bottle and get out in the nice weather, but it’s important to know what you should be looking for so you can stay safe in the sun.
What is SPF?
You might find yourself asking “what does SPF stand for?”. We see it on adverts all the time and many of us have just accepted it of a way of measuring the strength of sun cream, but the abbreviation stands for “sun protection factor”. Pretty simple, really. But what does it actually mean?
Well, contrary to popular belief, SPF 30 doesn’t quite offer double the protection that SPF 15 does (we know, it’s confusing). Generally speaking, this is how much protection you can expect from the following SPF factors:
- SPF 15 – 93% protection
- SPF 30 – 97% protection
- SPF 50 – 98% protection
So really, factor 30 only offers 4% more protection from harmful rays than factor 15. Madness! However, there are differences between the SPFs, and the main one is how long you’ll be protected for.
Different SPFs offer different levels of protection, and they’re generally classified in terms of low protection to high protection. You should know how easily you burn or how fair your skin is, so you can use this infographic to guide you on how to choose the best sun cream based on how much protection you need.
How long will sun cream protect me for?
This depends on the SPF of the lotion you’ve chosen, and unfortunately, it involves a little bit of algebra (cue maths teachers across the country going “we told you that you’d use it one day!”).
To work out how long your sun cream will protect you for, you need to know how long it would normally take your skin to burn without any protection at all. Let’s say that it would take 10 minutes. If you’ve chosen an SPF 30 sun lotion, it will protect you for 30x the amount of time it would take your skin to burn without it, so in this case, 30 x 10. This would protect you for 300 minutes, or 5 hours. You can use the same formula with other SPFs, so if you wanted to use SPF 15, you’d multiply 15 (the SPF) by 10 (the number of minutes it takes for your skin to burn without sun lotion), and divide the answer by 60. This should give you the number of hours you’ll be protected for.
It goes without saying that lower-factor sun lotions will need to be applied more often than higher-factor ones, but it also depends on other circumstances such as:
- The weather conditions
- How much you apply
- If you go swimming
- Your skin type
People with fair skin will usually need to use a higher SPF, but the general recommendation for choosing sun lotion is to go between 15-50 SPF.
How much sun cream should I use?
It turns out that we might not be applying as much sun cream as we should be doing (though memories of our mums bathing us in the stuff and looking like we’ve swum through a tub of Sudocrem are probably a little OTT… sorry, Mum).
General guidelines state that you should use around 1oz of sun cream, which is roughly the amount that would fit into a shot glass. Whilst this might seem like a lot, remember that it’s for your entire body, including the parts we often forget about like the soles of our feet, ears, necks, and lips (though lip-balms are available at various SPF levels).
Will my sun lotion protect me from all of the harmful rays?
Again, this depends on which type you buy. The most common type of sun cream is UVB protection, which protects you against the UVB rays that cause burning and skin cancer. However, UVA rays can also be harmful, causing premature skin ageing, wrinkles and age spots.
To make sure you’re fully covered against the sun, you should look for a broad spectrum sun cream, which protects against both UVA and UVB.
You should also apply a higher factor during peak hours (usually between 10am-2pm) when the sun is at its highest. Otherwise, you can seek refuge in the shade between these times. It's also important to wear a hat so that your scalp doesn't burn. Apart from being really painful, this can also cause skin damage that you're trying to avoid on the rest of your body.
Will I still tan if I use sun lotion?
Yes, but you might not tan as much, and it will probably take longer. No sun lotion can protect you 100% from UVB rays, so your skin will still produce more melanin in response to the rays that do end up penetrating the skin, and it’s the extra production of melanin that causes the darkening associated with getting a tan. However, it’s important to know that a tan is a sign of skin damage, so it’s not necessarily a good thing. Even though you might still tan whilst using sun cream, it’s far safer than going without it. If you’re really desperate for that post-holiday glow, it’s a good idea to use fake tan. Try to avoid sunbeds as they can cause the same type of damage as the sun itself.
I thought the sun was good for me?
It is! We get most of our vitamin D from sunlight, and being outdoors is the best way to produce more of it (the rays needed for the production of Vitamin D can’t penetrate glass). We need vitamin D for healthy bones and growth, so spending time in the sun is one of the best ways we can make sure our bodies are getting enough of it. Usually, we can produce as much vitamin D as we need just before we start to burn, but we still recommend using sun cream to be on the safe side.
There might be some evidence to suggest that sun cream might hinder the production of Vitamin D, but if you’re concerned about this, you can always take vitamin D supplements, which is far safer than going out into the sun without protection.