While most of us simply slather on whatever is in our cupboard, that dusty bottle of ten-year-old cream might not be offering you proper protection. The ingredients in your bottle have a short shelf life and not all creams shield against the full rays of the sun. We scan the labels to see how the contents of your bottle stack up.
Know your UVA from your UVB
The sun beams two types of rays; UVA and UVB. Both cause sunburn and are linked to cancer. The difference with UVA is that it’s not responsible for your tan lines; instead it penetrates deeper into the skin speeding up the aging process. UVA can also penetrate glass. To guard against both, you need a broad-spectrum cream with SPF15 to combat UVB, and a four-to-five-star rating on the bottle, to ensure you’re safe on the UVA front, too.
You can now buy moisturisers that contain SPF but don't automatically think they'll replace sunscreen. It's unlikely you'll be putting enough on to make a difference. When brands do SPF testing, the rating they give is related directly to the amount of coverage (2mm of sunscreen per square centimetre of skin, if we’re getting geeky about it). Most of us use just a third of that, which means we’re getting a third less SPF protection. It’s better than nothing, but don’t rely on face creams to handle red heat.
Know your ingredients
Those with sensitive skin fare better using mineral sunscreen, which is made from zinc oxide. Mineral creams used to leave unsightly, white patches when they dried but newer versions contain nano-particles, which do the same job (reflect the UV light) without the streaky side effects. Critics say that nano-particles let more zinc into the body, but Paul Wright, who leads the research into nano-safety at RMIT University, explains that extensive assessment by regulatory bodies worldwide has found them “widely accepted as safe for use in sunscreens”. So you can slather on with worry-free.
If you’re unearthing last year’s sun cream from your cupboard, take a look at the label first. The illustration of a tub with the lid off and the numbers 12 or 18M (for month) give you the shelf life. If it’s past a year, it’s time to throw it away and grab a new one. The ingredients can deteriorate with age and temperature, so watch out if you’ve been storing your bottle in a warm cupboard or on the bathroom windowsill in direct sunlight.
Even if the last holiday you had was a staycation; if you work outside, or take your gym habit to the park year-round then you’re at risk of skin cancer. Get the right tools to stay skin-safe. Opt for mineral suncream if you have sensitive skin and avoided perfumed options. While the official advice is to fill up a shot glass worth of cream and generously apply to exposed skin, if you can’t be bothered, at least double up what you think is the right amount and leave no bit of skin uncovered, to avoid burnt toes and burnt hairlines. And don’t worry; according to a study published in the Archives of Dermatology, applying SPF doesn’t detract from your vitamin D levels.
Find your dosage: a guide to SPF
Low protection – not enough protection. It only blocks out around 75 per cent of the sun’s rays, as opposed to nearly 95 with SPF 15 6 to 14 (SPF 6 to 10)
Medium protection- The minimum suggested by Cancer Research UK 15 to 29 (SPF 15, 20 and 25)
High protection- best for prolonged sun exposure 30 to 50 (SPF 30 and 50)
Very high protection- best for outdoor sports 50 + (SPF 50+)