Skin/ Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

How to protect your skin from the sun

Being sunscreen-averse seems to be part and parcel of British culture. A 2017 survey found that nearly a quarter of Brits don’t use sunscreen during the summer, which is likely an underestimate, as survey respondents tend to exaggerate their engagement in health-promoting behaviours. Exposure to UV (ultraviolet) rays is a major cause of melanoma (the most serious type of skin cancer), so this is a serious public health issue.

And if the risk of skin cancer isn’t enough to make you reach for the sunscreen, your vanity might: using sunscreen protects against ageing, keeping the skin wrinkle-free and youthful for longer.

I used to be someone who rarely used sunscreen (despite being pale and susceptible to burning), because I couldn’t stand how the greasiness of many sun lotion formulas made my skin feel. But as you grow older, you tend to appreciate the importance of taking care of yourself more.

So I’ve trawled the internet for recommendations on non-greasy ways to protect my skin, and while I’ve yet to find the perfect sunscreen (does such a thing exist?!), I’ve found one I’m fairly happy to use on a daily basis.

To save you the effort of researching, I’ve compiled a few ways you can avoid sun damage this summer without forgoing the fun of barbeques in the sun or feeling greasier than a Viallis takeout!

NB: this advice is based upon guidance predominantly geared towards people with lighter skin tones. The melanin found in black skin provides partial (but incomplete) protection from UV rays, meaning there’s debate as to whether sunscreen is medically necessary for people with deeper skin tones (see, for example, this recently published article). But, as Vichy ambassador and consultant dermatologist at Skin55, Dr Anjali Mahto says, “dark skin types are still vulnerable to sun damage.” Whether you’re on the pastier end of the skin tone spectrum or not, it might be wise to be more cautious with your skin, so read on.

 

1) Don’t tan. Most of us know that burning is bad, but do you know that tanning is also a sign of sun damage? Contrary to popular belief, there’s no such thing as a healthy natural tan. If you like the look of a tan, look into the many fake tanning products available on the market, or get a spray tan.

 

2) Don’t rely upon the SPF in your moisturiser or foundation for protection. It’s common these days for facial moisturisers to advertise themselves as containing SPF. While they’re better than wearing no SPF at all, you’d have to use an absurd amount of product to actually get the SPF advertised on the bottle. This brings me to my next (and most important) point.

 

3) Wear sunscreen. Loads of it! If you’re outdoors for a significant amount of time when the UV index is 3 or above (as it generally has been so far in July), it’s recommended that you use sunscreen. Most people don’t use anywhere near enough, so it’s better to veer on the side of ‘too much’ than ‘not enough’. For your head, arms, and neck alone, it’s recommended that you use a total of 2 teaspoons. Pay particular attention to areas especially susceptible to sunburn, such as your chest and the back of your neck.

 

4) Use a broad spectrum sunscreen, which will protect you from both UVB and UVA rays, with an SPF of at least 30. UVA and UVB rays both damage the skin, which is why it’s important to use a sunscreen with protection against both. Most of the UV rays that reach the skin are UVA rays, which are responsible for the tan some people get from sun exposure. We tend to notice UVB damage more because it’s what’s responsible for sunburn, but both forms of damage can contribute to the development of skin cancers.

 

5) If you’re put off by childhood memories of being smeared in greasy white sun lotion, look into alternatives — they exist! I love Hawaiian Tropic’s Facial Sunscreen (SPF 30), which is a lightweight lotion that sits well under makeup. There are also a number of non-greasy spray sunscreens, and even powder sunscreens that can be used for touch-ups.

 

There’s no need to treat the sun like your enemy. Indeed, some sun exposure helps the body to create Vitamin D. But it’s important to have a healthy balance — your skin is for life, so look after it!

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