Sun Protection Creams: 5 Things a Scientist and a Skin Therapist Need You to Know
The sun is shining. Even if it’s just for a brief hour or two! You want to head out and make the most of the weather. You reach for the sun protection cream. But which do you go for?
At Jersey Beauty Company, we think choosing the right sun protection creams for our skin can be tough - when you’re faced with choices of SPF, UVA UVB, 15, 20, 30 or 50 protection, it can be easy to get confused. We all know we need to protect our skin in the sun and want to choose the right products for our unique skin. So we asked scientist Chris, and Dermalogica skin therapist Jane, for their top five tips on choosing the right sun protection.
1. UVA and UVB – Two Types of Rays
You may have heard of UVA and UVB when people talk about sun protection. We know there are different types of rays that affect our skin. What each of them are and do can be baffling if you’re not a scientist. Luckily Chris is - he puts it in its simplest terms – “UVA is the stuff that causes ageing in the skin. UVB is the stuff that causes our skin to burn.”
UVA is long wavelength UV - it accounts for up to 95 percent of the solar UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. So chances are, unless we never venture out of a windowless room, we’re going to come across it often. As UVA can penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, this means it plays a major part in our skin aging and wrinkling, as Dermalogica therapist Jane explains, as it affects the collagen in the deeper layers of our skin. This can cause the skin to lose its elasticity and firmness. UVA damage can be unseen for months or for years and can be anything from imperfections, wrinkles, right through to melanoma and skin cancer.
UVB has a shorter wavelength but a stronger intensity. We’re a bit more used to UVB. This is what causes our skin to burn in the sun. If you’ve ever had a day in the sun and come home with reddened shoulders or a peeling nose, you know some of how UVB can affect your skin. The short term damage of burning the skin, blistering and other issues can lead to our skin ageing too, and also other skin complications, as it causes damage to the outer layers of the skin.
We need protection against both UVA and UVB rays to keep our skin healthy.
2. SPF isn’t everything
A lot of skin care products are now sold with the letters SPF (Sun Protection Factor) on them. You may buy products with SPF on them, and understandably think you are protected from sun damage. It isn’t that simple, though, as Chris explains.
- Firstly, there are different SPF Factors. Any product with SPF on it should have a number, for example SPF 15. This means, basically, that when you put on lotion with an SPF 15, your skin is protected for fifteen times as long from the effects of UVB rays. If you would normally burn in ten minutes, you have up to one hundred and fifty minutes in the sun before your skin burns.
- Secondly, SPF is only a measure of how long a sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays. In addition to the SPF on a product, there should also be UVA rating – with a number of stars. This tells you how good that cream is in protecting you against UVA rays as well. As we know, UVA causes damage to the deeper layers of the skin, so it’s really important, in order to protect our skin health that we have a product with a good UVA rating.
- Finally, beware of products that say they provide ‘all day sun protection’, as this is often not the case. Our advice at Jersey Beauty Company is to re-apply sunscreen regularly to look after the unique skin you’re in.
3. Understanding Our Skin
At Jersey Beauty Company, we are all about understanding our skin - that a once size fits all approach to skin care doesn’t exist. Just like your fingerprint, your skin is unique and deserves to be treated in the best way for its needs.
Scientist Chris agrees with us, and told us about a tool, the Fitzpatrick Scale, which scores skin type from one to six, depending on the type of melanin in the skin - one being pale white, for example, a redhead complexion, with more pheomelanin in the skin, to six being deeply pigmented, with more eumelanin, with the skin being very dark brown to black.
- When you tan, your body is producing melanin to fight the sun.
- People at the further end of the scale, so towards the four, five, six, have more eumelanin, which means as you go in the sun, your body is producing more dark pigment which is why you tan.
- Someone at the lower end of the scale, with more pheomelanin, can be in the sun their whole life but their body doesn’t have that tanned pigment color to produce. It just produces red.
Understanding where we are on the Fitzpatrick scale is important, Chris says, because that will drive both how likely is it we may tan but also, more importantly, what kind or level of protection we will need. If your skin is pale and unlikely to tan, you need to stay safe in the sun. We don’t mean wrap yourself in bubble wrap, but we also know it can be tempting to make the mistake of burning your pale skin to get a tan. This can cause untold short and longer term damage to your skin at every layer.
At the other end of the scale, no matter how pigmented your skin is, it’s important to remember you can still burn and your skin will also be affected by UVA rays. So although you may be naturally better protected than someone with paler skin, this doesn’t mean you don’t need to wear protection. It means you might not see the damage as easily. But your skin deserves sun cream protection just as much as your friends with paler skin tones.
4. Vitamin D – Everything in moderation
One side effect of our increased use of SPF creams as a nation, is that we are perhaps over-cautious and some of us are missing out on vital Vitamin D exposure. Chris told us a story about how in Australia, where people are exposed to large amounts of UV sunlight, have good skin education, and are protecting their skin as a result, there has actually been an increase in the market for Vitamin D supplements. Surfers and outdoor workers are wearing sun protection creams that block their intake of Vitamin D.
Now, we aren’t in Australia - in case you hadn’t noticed! And we aren’t saying run outside and spend all day in direct sunlight without any protection! But scientist Chris recommends, to get the daily allowance of vitamin D, you do need about 10-15 minutes exposure or light. If you’re at work, inside all day, and pop out for a short walk at lunch, you may want to wait ten minutes before you put your sun cream on, suggests Chris, to expose your skin to vitamin D.
5. Sunscreen is not just for when it’s sunny
A big part of our sun protection cream routine is that we use sunscreen when we think our skin can burn. Which is great. We see the sun - we reach for the sun cream. We know we need to protect our skin from the UVB rays, the ones that actively burn the outer layers of our skin.
But we also need to protect our skin against the effects of the UVA rays – the ones that age our skin, breaking down the collagen and elasticity. The difficulty can be that UVA rays are present 365 days a year, whether it’s cloudy, sunny, boiling hot or freezing cold. We have a lot more cold days than hot ones but UVA doesn’t have a day off! UVA rays also penetrate through glass so can affect us on long car journeys or if we have a desk in a office with large windows.
We need products that allow UVA protection to be a part of our everyday skincare, particularly as our skin ages, and needs further protection. Dermalogica therapist Jane points to finding daily products like those in the Dermalogica AGE Smart range, such as the Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF50 moisturiser, with protection against UVA and UVB rays. Using a moisturiser with this added protection means you don’t have to apply a separate sunscreen. You should however reapply protection throughout the day.
We at Jersey Beauty Company actively seek out sun protection products that not only have SPF, and therefore UVB protection, but also have UVA protection, as we know how important it is for your short and longer term skin health to have both levels of protection. Click here or below for a full range of the products we stock.