SPF: Ask any dermatologist and they will agree that it is one of, if not the most important products in any good skincare routine, and yet a recent YouGov survey revealed that only 7% of adults do not wear it, even in the sun. “Historically so many sunscreens haven’t been ‘nice’ to use – they have been essential products on a sunny day, rather than an enjoyably inclusion in a skincare regime,” muses aesthetic doctor, Dr Sophie Shotter, about why that is.
“This could be because they’re too greasy and cause breakouts, too heavily fragranced, difficult to rub in or because they’re chalky and leave a white cast on the skin.” She also notes that sensitivity to sunscreen ingredients is also reasonably common, and some people struggle with flare-ups of rosacea from sunscreen.
As well as protecting the skin against sun damage – and potential skin cancer – wearing a decent SPF daily reduces the chances of premature ageing, whether that is collagen depletion, pigmentation or increased fine lines and wrinkles. Religious use of one keeps the skin looking healthy and youthful for longer.
“SPF is the most important step in your skincare regime,” explains Dr. Fiona Mccarthy, aesthetic doctor at The Bronte Clinic. “If you are investing in other skincare products to reduce signs of ageing or achieve glowing skin, but don’t use SPF daily, you are reducing the long-term efficacy of all the other skincare products and likely wasting your money.”
So, what do we need to know about wearing SPF? Below, find the five key rules of wearing SPF, according to the experts.
1. Find a formula you love
The first, most fundamental rule of wearing SPF is to find one that you actually enjoy wearing. “The most important tip I can give for sunscreen use is to find one that you will wear every day,” agrees consultant dermatologist, Dr. Clare Kiely. “We all have good intentions but in reality, life is busy and we are often in a rush, so a sunscreen routine can quickly fall by the wayside. If you have one that you like and that is multifunctional, you are more likely to wear it.”
The SPF market is now filled with hybrid formulas, with many formulas now offering hydrating benefits beyond just sun protection, making it easier to segue the SPF step seamlessly into your skincare routine. It is worth noting, however, that it’s important to use a dedicated facial SPF (as opposed to a moisturiser or make-up with added SPF) to ensure adequate protection, adds Dr. McCarthy. SPF powders can be good for touch-ups during the day, but are not enough for day-long protection.
There is no one-size-fits-all for SPF – different skin types have different needs, but persevering and finding the right one for you is key to healthy skin. “Most reputable suncare brands will have a range of formulations that suit different skin types – whether that’s rosacea, oily skin, dry or menopausal,” says Dr Shotter. “An oily skin needs a sunscreen that won’t make their skin greasier or block pores, a dry skin type needs nourishment, hydration and barrier repair, and a rosacea-prone skin needs a mineral-only formulation that won’t sensitise their skin further.”
2. Wear it every day, year-round
All experts unanimously agree that SPF should be worn year round. “Sunscreens should be worn every day, even if it is cloudy,” stresses consultant dermatologist Dr. Sharon Belmo. “Up to 80 per cent of UV light penetrates clouds, plus UVA can penetrate windows. And to add to that, visible light is found in indoor lighting, computer and phone screens.” An SPF 30 will prevent 97 per cent of UVB light from reaching the skin if used correctly, while an SPF 50 increases the level of protection to 98 per cent.
One thing to note is that the SPF number does not reflect how much UVA protection you will receive from the product. “UVA protection is measured by the UV star rating,” explains Dr. McCarthy, “which is the percentage of UVA radiation absorbed by the sunscreen in comparison to UVB.” The star rating will provide a value from 0 to 5, but for it to effectively provide better protection, you should look for an SPF between 30-50, with a 5 star UVA rating, she advises.
3. Mineral vs chemical
Do you choose a mineral or chemical SPF? It can be confusing if you are not aware of what each type of SPF formula does and how they fend off UV radiation. “Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays by converting UV light energy into heat energy and absorbing it,” explains Dr. McCarthy. “Meanwhile, mineral (or physical) sunscreens, with ingredients like titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and iron oxide, work by reflecting light and heat away from the skin, preventing UV rays from penetrating the epidermis.”
While chemical SPFs tend to absorb better on the skin, making them a more popular all-round choice, they also contain chemicals such as avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone, which can cause irritation or allergic reactions in certain skin types. The best sunscreen for sensitive skin, whether rosacea or irritation-prone, is a mineral SPF. However, their downside is that they can leave a white cast over darker skin tones.
Mineral and chemical SPFs also exist, for double the protection too. Deciphering which one you use is up to you, but always ensure it works with your skin, rather than against it. If you are prone to breakouts, the best sunscreen for acne-prone skin is one that is labelled non-comedogenic, which means it will not clog pores.
4. The tea-spoon rule
If you do not apply enough sunscreen, you will not be receiving the protection you need against the sun, studies have shown that people typically apply around 20 to 60 per cent of the sunscreen needed to achieve the SPF protection of their chosen product. Heed dermatologist advice and follow the teaspoon rule.
“For SPF to offer the amount of protection indicated on the label, we should be applying half a teaspoon to the face and neck, and one teaspoon for each body part, i.e. arms, legs and legs, front and back,” advises Dr. Belmo. Key areas that many people miss include the ears, hairline, neck and the top of the forehead, a hat can also help offer extra protection.
“It is also important to remember that SPF should be reapplied regularly during the day,” says Dr. McCarthy. “Reapplication is recommended every two hours or after any swimming or sweating.”
5. Supercharge your SPF
For added UV protection, it pays to supercharge your sun protection by adding an antioxidant product into the mix. “I recommend that all my patients use a specific antioxidant product in addition to their SPF on a daily basis,” says Dr. McCarthy. “L-ascorbic acid (which is better known as vitamin C) is an excellent antioxidant and can provide an extra line of defence.” Other great ingredients to incorporate include resveratrol, ferulic acid and niacinamide.
Another top tip for added defence is to use a tinted sunscreen: “The benefit of a tinted sunscreen is that it gives you added protection against visible light, which has been shown to be problematic, especially in those prone to pigmentation,” says Dr. Kiely. If you are not convinced you are applying enough for adequate protection, use it on top of a straight SPF.