Guide to sunscreen 2022

Even though most of us never hesitate to apply sunscreen on holiday or on sunny days at home, digging out a bottle in the winter may not come naturally.

But is it really necessary to wear SPF in any weather? Why should you wear SPF?

Unfortunately, most people know so little about how sun creams work they unwillingly expose themselves to skin damage, according to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.1

Luckily, we’re going to help. We’ll explain what SPF is and how it works. Then, we’ll advise which SPF is right for you, based on your skin type. That way, you’ll have a good idea of how to protect yourself from skin damage in the hot summer months.

In this article, you’ll find out

· What is SPF

· What the number means on SPF

· Different types of sunscreen

· What SPF does to skin

· Which SPF should you use

· Which SPF is best

· If you need SPF in winter

· SPF and vitamin D

What is SPF?

SPF stands for ‘sun protection factor’. SPF is a measure of how much protection sunscreen products offer against UVB rays.

These are one of two different types of rays that are produced by sunlight, the other being UVA rays.

However, UVA rays are also damaging. Make sure you look to see if your sun cream protects you from both UVB and UVA rays. UVA ray protection is typically indicated by an additional tiered star system.

Out of the two, UVB rays cause the most damage to our skin, including sunburn. They play the greatest role in causing skin cancers, which include the deadly black mole form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma.2

Meanwhile, UVA rays can also contribute to skin cancer. They penetrate more deeply into our skin and play a greater role in premature skin ageing, such as wrinkle formation.

There are around 500 times more UVA rays in sunlight than UVB rays. So when you’re choosing a sunscreen, it needs to protect you from both.

The longer you stay in the sun without sun protection, the greater your chances of burning.

Why wear SPF?

If you tend to spend a lot of time outdoors - you may work outside, for instance – you should wear SPF 30 or higher, and it should be water-resistant sunscreen too. And don’t forget to reapply it.

Regardless of how strong your sunscreen is, if you sweat or get wet, you must put some more on again, ideally every two hours, to make sure your skin stays fully protected.3

What does the number mean on SPF?

The numbers you see on your sun cream or lotion, spray or gel are ratings based on the level of protection they offer.

For example, factor two offers the lowest form of UVB protection and SPF 50+ offers the strongest protection.

The number doesn’t relate to how long you can stay out in the sun for.

It applies to how much longer it will take skin that’s untanned to start to get red with sunscreen on it, compared to how long it will start to get red without it.4

SPF numbers are calculated using a certain formula – dividing the number of seconds it takes skin to slightly redden when covered in sunscreen by the number of seconds it takes to slightly redden when no sunscreen has been used.

For example – if it takes 300 seconds for skin to burn with sunscreen, and 10 seconds to burn without it. 300 is divided by 10, which is 30 or SPF 30.

While most of us pay attention to SPF, the star rating on our bottle of sun lotion is also important.

This measures the amount of ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) protection, with a rating of up to five stars being the highest shown on UK sunscreens.

UVA targets the skin more deeply than UVB and is a key factor in skin wrinkling and ageing.

Choose a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen, as this indicates that it offers both UVA and UVB protection.

How long does it take to burn?

The weather, atmospheric conditions, and your unique skin type all determine how long it’ll take to burn in the sun. However, in most instances, it takes people from five to thirty minutes before they burn.

Other factors which affect your burn time include how humid it is, how much you sweat, whether you’re swimming, and how much clothing you are wearing.

Different SPF levels

Sun creams protect you to different levels, but they’re categorised into four tiers of sun protection.

The tiers are:

· Low protection (SPF 4, 6, 8 and 10)

· Medium protection (SPF 15, 20 and 25)

· High protection (SPF 30, 40 and 50)

· Very high protection (SPF 50+)

What does SPF do to your skin?

SPF works by essentially creating a barrier between your skin and the sun’s UVA and UVB rays.

Some contain inorganic chemicals, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which act as a physical sunblock. They reflect UV rays, similar to how white paint reflects light.5

Sunscreens also contain organic chemicals, such as avobenzone or oxybenzone. Instead of physically deflecting UV light, these molecules absorb UV radiation through their chemical bonds.

As the bonds absorb UV radiation, the components of the sunscreen slowly break down and release heat.


· Factor two offers the lowest form of UVB protection and SPF 50+ offers the strongest protection

· The number doesn’t relate to how long you can stay out in the sun for

· It applies to how much longer it will take untanned skin to go red with sunscreen on it, compared to how long it will start to go red without it


How to choose SPF number

Most people should use a medium or high protection sun cream. People with fairer skin or in scorching conditions (like a beach) should choose a higher SPF.

If you’re so fair you redden even after a short stint in the sun, you should choose a sun cream of no less than factor 50, and consider specialised scalp sun protection (or wear a hat!).

You’re advised to protect children with no less than an SPF 50 or to choose very high protection for especially fair children and babies.

If you’re a light skin type, who is determined to get a good tan during the summer months, start with a higher SPF and reduce the protection level gradually.

That way, your skin will get accustomed to the sun safely, as the process of bronzing is basically the skin’s self-protection mechanism kicking in.

Different types of sun cream

Widely available sun cream varieties include: · Mineral sun creams (these are made from all-natural ingredients and are typically reef-safe)

· Cream sun cream

· Spray sun cream

· Broad-spectrum (protects from UVA and UVB rays)


Which SPF should I use?

Just one look at the different sunscreen products available, online and in-store, can be a bit mind-boggling, especially when you need to consider SPF strength and UV star rating, as well as the product type, brand and customer reviews etc.

It is important you do your research when you buy your sunscreen because it does an extremely important job and you want your skin to be as protected as possible.

Just as you would take your skin type (normal, dry, sensitive, oily or combination) into account when you’re choosing a skincare product, you need to do the same when you’re shopping around for an SPF too.

1. SPF for oily skin

A lightweight moisturiser that contains SPF, but won’t block your pores may be the best option for you.

Quite a few sunscreens that have a high SPF factor tend to have a thicker consistency, and this heavier consistency can leave your skin feeling clogged and sticky.

This is far from ideal, especially if your skin is already quite greasy - your pores are already prone to getting clogged and developing blemishes.6

Look out for: Oil-free, lightweight creams, gels, fluids, lotions and mineral powders that won’t leave your skin feeling greasy or congested.

1. SPF for sensitive, blemish-prone skin

SPFs that don’t contain certain ingredients, particularly benzophenones, that can irritate skin get on better with sensitive and blemish-prone skin.

Alcohols aren’t ideal either because they can aggravate and dry skin out. If your skin is extremely sensitive, try a mineral powder sunscreen instead. They dust on to your skin and feel weightless.7

Look out for: Lightweight or mineral powder sunscreens that contain minimal ingredients and no fragrances that can aggravate skin.

1. SPF for dry skin

Choose lightweight SPFs that also act as a moisturising face cream or serum. They deliver a double action boost by hydrating skin as well as protecting it from the sun.

Cream or lotion-based SPFs tend to have the best staying power too.8

Look out for: SPF serums that are packed full of moisture and don’t overwhelm skin.

1. SPF for combination skin

Stick to a lightweight SPF that will provide protection without flooding your skin with too much heavy product and block your pores, while also providing moisture where it’s needed too.

Look out for: SPF gel formulations that aren’t too thick or greasy, but will still provide adequate moisture.

1. SPF for your eyes and lips

Just as there are moisturisers with SPF and face cream with SPF, there are specific sunscreen products for protecting the skin around your eyes, your lips and your hands from the sun too.

Look out for: Lip balm with SPF, eye cream with SPF and hand cream with SPF that have been specially formulated to protect while also taking care of your lips, delicate eye area and hands.

1. SPF for dark skin

If you have a dark complexion you’ll also need to use SPF, as your skin can still burn and get damaged by the sun – just not as quickly as fair-skinned people.

Opt for a low to medium protection product.

You may find that chemical sunscreens leave less of a white cast on your skin, however mineral versions are becoming better at being suitable for all skin tones so don’t write them off just yet.9

Look out for: Factor 30, well-absorbing, perhaps a tinted product to suit your skin tone.

1. SPF for pale skin

If you have pale skin, you’ll likely need high to very high protection SPF as your skin will burn quicker than those with darker skin tones.

Fortunately, mineral sunscreens may appear to have less of a white cast against your skin, so this is a valid option.

Look out for: Factor 50, mineral or chemical sunscreen formulation.

A quick note

Oh, and don’t forget, you can also get foundation with SPF too, but some of the SPF ratings can be on the lower side, so you may need to use them alongside an additional sunscreen product to bump up your level of protection.

Which SPF is best?

A four-star UVA protection and SPF 15 is recommended for most people as a shield against the sun’s rays. However, this can differ depending on your skin type.

For a boost of added moisture, those with dry skin should opt for cream or gel-based products.

If you have oily or spot-prone skin, oil-free sunscreens will protect you from the sun without clogging your pores.

Mineral, oil-free, fragrance-free and hypoallergenic products are ideal for sensitive skin as they contain fewer chemicals.

How to use SPF

Getting the right SPF for you is one thing, but using it properly is equally as important.

1. How much to apply

If you’re going to have a lot of your skin exposed to the sun, then you’ll need at least a thumb-sized amount of SPF for your whole body – a teaspoon sized dollop for each arm, leg, your front and your back.


For your face and neck you’ll need at least half a teaspoons worth of sunscreen. Ensure that it’s rubbed in properly to avoid any dodgy looking strips of sunburn.10

2. When to apply

Be sure to apply your SPF last, so after you’ve used any serums or moisturiser. If it’s a mineral sunscreen you should be good to go out in the sun straightaway, but if it’s a chemical one you’ll have to wait 15-30 minutes for it to sink in.

And it’s super important to reapply every two hours or after you’ve been in water or exercised.

3. Which ingredients you can and can’t you mix it with

Try not to mix your own SPF/moisturiser or makeup hybrid as this will affect the efficacy of the product.

Always wear SPF if you use retinol, vitamin C skincare products, benzoyl peroxide, AHA/BHA acids.

Do you need to wear sunscreen in the winter?

Though it may be cold outside and summer is long gone, you’re still at risk of burning, even on cloudy days.

In winter, reflected light from snow, sand and water can also intensify your exposure to UV rays.

Unless you’re spending a long time out in the winter sun, an SPF or SPF-containing moisturiser will help protect you against short periods of UV exposure.

Sunscreen is best saved for extended UV exposure, which includes spending an hour or more outside.

Does wearing SPF all year lead to Vitamin D deficiency?

Vitamin D is created by our bodies from direct sunlight on our skin when we’re outside.

However, sun safety is still important so make sure to protect your skin whenever it’s exposed to the sun.

Eating oily fish, eggs or using a supplement are alternative sources of Vitamin D.


· You can still get sunburnt, even on cloudy days

· SPFs shouldn’t just be worn during the summer

· Sun safety is still important, as well as Vitamin D absorption

Which skincare ingredients boost SPF effectiveness?

There are a few skincare ingredients that may be able to bolster your SPF protection. These include vitamin C, vitamin E, and ferulic acid, which have all been found to offer protection against sun damage from infrared radiation.11

A final few words about SPF…

Just as you may not be able to live without your favourite stay-put lippie or double length mascara, the same principle applies to SPF too – it’s a skincare staple for your face and body that should never be overlooked.

The great thing is, there are so many different sunscreens available.

Not only are they suitable for all types of skin, but they’re available in a form that works best for your skin, e.g. gel, mineral or serum, foundation or moisturiser.

If it isn’t already in there, add SPF into your daily skincare regime, and if it is, great news, keep applying it every day.

The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

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