Choosing the best sun protection is a pretty weighty decision. Make it a great one, and it will permanently put a lock on the door between your beautiful skin and it ending up looking like a well-done rasher of bacon *winks*.
Unlike a lot of other skincare products, you can tell exactly what that bottle of sun protection will do for your skin, just by looking at the bottle.
(you can also tell… which sun protection pick will be the best for sensitive skin, which will rub in the easiest, which will last the longest and which will give you the ‘ultimate’ protection from fine lines and wrinkles)
See suntan lotion legally has to do exactly what it says on the bottle. There’s no puffery marketing claims about sun protection town.
That means once you arm yourself up with this 10 phrase sun protection dictionary, you’ll be choosing the best sun protection faster than a NASA rocket launch. A trusty skill for the when your lost in duty free and hear the ‘last boarding call…’ announcement *winks*.
First up, let’s get savvy on the 2 different kinds of ‘sunlight’ that can cause damage to your beautiful skin…
1. UVA Light
Remember those science lessons where someone used a fancy ‘prism’ (that kinda looked like a very cheap *winks* plastic diamond) to ‘split’ light into the colours of the rainbow? Well that jazzy science experiment worked because ‘white’ light is actually a paint-pot of all the colours of the rainbow. It’s a really strange concept ‘eh, cus we usually think of ‘white’ as being colourless, but it’s actually the most colourful!
All of those colours are called visible lights, because we can see them. Nice that ‘eh *winks*, if only those skin damaging lights came coloured with a ‘red’ light warning.
UVA is a type of ‘high energy’ light that we can’t see. It’s actually neighbours with visible light, so as soon as you climb up the staircase of rainbow colours, you enter the invisible staircase of ‘UV’ light.
UVA is the first light on this staircase.
UVA light has less energy than UVB (which is the next step up the staircase), but it can penetrate much more deeply into our skin.
UVA light is the reason why the sun can cause damage to our skin even without the warning signs of a sunburn.
See, UVA light knows the passcode to your skin’s manufacturing rooms. That means those special places where you find collagen, elastin and other important ‘skin plumping’ building blocks are open wide to UVA attack… unless you use sun protection that protects against UVA light (more about that later…).
UVA light is the key cause of fine lines and wrinkles that are caused by sun damage (the ones you won’t know about until years later) and can cause the more serious skin cancers because it reaches so deeply into our skin.
(p.s. if you want a trusty reminder of this science-lingo sun protection, then download the 1-page crib sheet below and next time you’re choosing, you’ll have a trusty guide somewhere safe *smiles*)
2. UVB Light
UVB light is the last kind of damaging light that our skin needs defending from. (There’s also a third ‘n final kind of UV light called UVC light, but thanking our lucky stars, our atmosphere filters those out for us, otherwise we might look like green, jellied aliens *winks*).
UVB light has a lot of energy which is why it can cause a sunburn within minutes of being outdoors, in midday heat, unprotected. You can think of UVB light, like the pinball in a ‘pinball machine’, ‘n everytime it bounces somewhere new, there’s more skin damage caused.
UVB light is the key cause of sunburn and skin cancer. Sunburn is your bodies way to alerting you of UVB damage, it’s a pretty important ‘survival’ reaction because UVB light is so high energy it can cause changes to your DNA, which is why it can have such serious effects.
Unlike UVA light, UVB doesn’t know the code to your skin’s front door. That means as soon as this guy enters, skin sets off its alarm system which triggers inflammation and redness.
Right my friend, now we know who our mutual ‘enemy’ is *winks*, we can get started on our defence plans *giggles*… Knowing what these sun protection ratings means will help you in choosing the absolute best sun protection.
3. SPF, Sun Protection Factor
The first and most common sun protection rating your likely used to seeing is called the ‘sun protection factor’, or SPF for short. SPF is the shield in our defence arsenal against those scary UVB rays.
That means when you’re looking at an SPF rating, it’s telling you how well it will shield against sunburns (and superficial skin cancers)
The higher the number the more layers of security you have against a UVB light attack.
So how does an SPF rating get decided?
This my friend is a real life test. A group of volunteers who are sensitive to the sun are recruited. These guys get exposed to UVB rays and the scientists measure how many UVB rays it takes until they burn (this is the bacon rasher group *winks*). Next up volunteers get to slather up with the sun protection cream and do the same thing.
The results tell us how much longer you can stay in the sun, (when using that sun protection cream) and still not get a sunburn. That means…
- If it takes you 10 minutes to burn, an SPF 15 will give you protection for 150 minutes
- If it takes you 10 minutes to burn, SPF 30 will give you protection for 300 minutes
- and with SPF 50, you guess it *winks*, it would take you 500 minutes to burn (or over 8 hours)
There is one catch to be super careful of… This experiment has a controlled dose of UVB light. In real life it’s not that consistent. When the sun is highest in our skies at midday, we get a bigger dose and when it’s lowest at sunrise and sunset, we get the lowest.
So, SPF tells you how much longer you can stay out in the sun without getting burned. It also tells you how many rays of UVB light your body will absorb in that time…
- SPF 15, means only 1 in 15 UVB rays will get to meet your skin. That means a protection of around 93%.
- SPF 30, only allows 1 in every 30 UVB rays to meet your skin. That gives a protection of around 97%.
- SPF 50, allows 1in every 50 UVB rays through. That gives around 98% protection.
It’s because of these 2 combined that the academy of dermatologists recommends SPF15 as a minimum sun protection factor.
4. PA ratings, PA+, PA++, PA+++
Now we know that UVA rays are the key cause of sun damage to our skin (and serious deeply rooted skin cancers) there are a couple of rating systems to tell you how well your sun protection will hold up against them. The PA rating system is one of them.
A PA rating will tell you how well a sun cream protects you from sunlight caused wrinkles, age spots, skin sagging, skin thickening etc.
PA is a nicely shortened acronym for ‘protection grade of UVA’ (yea, you see why they shortened that to PA now ‘eh *winks*).
The PA rating system has 3 levels…
…and like for SPF they test this out on ‘real life people’ to see how well a sun cream can protect from UVA. Scientists do this by measuring how skin ‘darkens’ (as UVA rays are responsible for browning of the skin), so they test a known dose of UVA with and without the sun protection cream and see the difference in skin darkening.
So that means, the protection factor tells you how much longer you can stay out in the sun without skin darkening (…which is a sign of damage).
- PA+, you get a UVA protection factor between 2-4, which is low. Basically 2 to 4 times less skin darkening & therefore UVA skin damage.
- PA++, your factor is between 4-8, which is moderate. You get 4 to 8 times less skin darkening and UVA damage.
- PA+++, you’re on a home run to the 8+, which is high.
5. The Star Rating System
… a name which brings flash backs to ‘Stars In Your Eyes’, shout me if you remember the show ‘eh, don’t leave me out here along *winks*! For sun protection my friend, you’ll be wanting to see 4-5 stars in your eyes…
The number of stars you see on your sun protection will tell you how well it protects against UVA damage (wrinkles, skin sagging, age spots… and serious cancers).
The ratings go from zero-star heart ache to a full trophy cabinet of 5. The more there are, the more protection your skin gets from those quietly damaging UVA rays.
This one is a little sneaky though… the rating is based on how much UVA light the suncream absorbs (and stops your skin from absorbing)… here’s the catch, in relationship to the amount of UVB light the suncream also stops your skin from absorbing.
That means if your sun protection has a low SPF, you could get 5-stars against UVA but only because the UVB protection is so low. Does that make sense? It’s like putting 2 peas next to one and saying you have more, or (for better protection) putting 50 peas next to 25.
That’s why, when looking at star ratings, you also want a SPF of minimum 15 and advised 30.
6. The UVA circle
Yeesh, there’s a lot of these ratings for UVA ‘eh! It’s because UVA is a bit of a ‘new’ thing, we’ve known about UVB for ‘donkeys years’ and those UVB rays have some pretty un-ignorable ‘lobster’ making effects *winks*. UVA protection is a newer, ‘thing’, which means for the moment, there’s quite a few different ways of measuring UVA protection. The UVA circle is another…
The UVA circle is just one rating. You either have it or you don’t.
If you choose a sunscreen that has this label, then it means the UVA protection is a third of the UVB/SPF protection. Simples.
7. Broad Spectrum
I bet after absorbing up all this information about UVA & UVB you’ve already guessed what this baby means? Broad spectrum means that sun-protection pick, will work to defend your beautiful skin from both UVA and UVB light.
That means not only will it defend against sunburn and superficial skin cancers, it’ll also help to defend against ‘photo-aging’, also plainly known as sun damage to your skin (oh and the more serious deeply starting skin cancers).
It’s a good phrase to look for when choosing the best sun protection, but it only gives you a small insight (whereas the PA & star system will tell you more).
For sun protection to claim broad spectrum it needs to provide at least a third worth’s of protection from UVA light as the SPF value claims for UVB light. It’s the same shizzle as the UVA circle.
So we’ve got the key rating systems for UVA & UVB protection under our belts, now it’s onto choosing the best sun protection by getting savvy about the 2 different kinds of lotions you’ll find…
8. Sunscreen – Chemical Filters
You might of noticed the whole time you’ve been reading I’ve used the words, ‘suncream’ or ‘suntan lotion’ or ‘sun protection’. Where usually we’d probably be chatting about this saying, ‘sunscreen’.
Sunscreen is actually a specific type of sun protection.
A sunscreen uses ‘chemical filters’ that interact with the UV light before your skin gets to. It’s kinda like having a personal call fielding service *winks*.
They get called chemical filters because they ‘react’ with the light to ‘deaden’ that excited pinball energy we spoke about earlier. It’s because of how these guys work, that sunscreen gets ‘used up’…
So what does this means for choosing the best sun protection? If you are after sun protection that is easily applied (not hard to rub in and that doesn’t leave white streaks) then a sunscreen is for you (you’ll be able to tell by avoiding the 2 sunblock ingredients i’m telling you about below). On the flip side, if you have very sensitive skin, then I’d advise you to go for sun protection in the form of a sunblock…
The second type of sun protection you have to choose from gets called a ‘sunblock’. It’s like calling a brown paper bag a ‘brown paper bag’ *winks*, because a sunblock literally just blocks the sun from getting to your skin.
A sunblock has lots of tiny, tiny ingredients that act as little shields against UV rays. You could think of it like a specialised face powder *winks*.
There are 2 ingredients that you’ll find listed as ‘actives’ in a sunblock, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Unlike a sunscreen, these guys don’t get ‘used up’, so their protection only gets lessened from moving about or swimming or sweating (*cough* I meant glowing!).
So what does this means for choosing the best sun protection? If you want long lasting protection that you won’t have to ‘top-up’ as much, then opt for a sunblock, or a sunscreen that also features sunblock ingredients (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide). Some people even choose to ‘layer-up’ their sun protection by layering a sunblock on top of a sunscreen. If on the other hand you get super frustrated by having to wait for that ‘white cast’ to fade or rub in, then sunscreen could be the best shout for you my friend. Also if you suffer from dry skin, it’s best to opt for a sunscreen as sunblock’s can be drying.
…and the other additional phrase you might look for when choosing the best sun protection for your sun filled holidays…
10. Water Resistant
You won’t find the claim, ‘waterproof’ on any reputable sunprotection, as it’s just a bit misleading. You start to think it’s like putting a rain mac on that never lets water through *winks*. The claim you will see is water resistant. It’s a good one to look for if you’re choosing the best sun protection for a beach-to food-to beach-to food type holiday ‘eh!
So how water resistant is water resistant?
This sun protection claim gets tested through 2, 20 minutes sessions of ‘moderate’ activity in water. Bear that in mind if you’re playing water polo ‘eh *winks*.
It’s also good to remember that drying off with a towel will literally rub off your water resist and sun protection (up to 85% of it!). So if you do towel dry, make sure to top up straight after.
The final ‘must know’ for choosing the best sun protection and using it in a way that guarantees the UVA & UVB protection, is to make sure you’re using enough. All of these test’s use a specific amount of suncream and that’s the amount you’ll need to use to guarantee the sun protection.
To guarantee the protection you need to be rubbing in 6 full teaspoons (around 36g, or more easily memorable a shot glass *winks*) for full head to toe sun protection. For non-holiday, day to day application where it’s probably just your face and neck that’s exposed to the light, you’ll want half a teaspoon (about the size of a grape) to guarantee the listed protection rating.
Which ratings are on the sun protection you’re using right now?
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who is more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She is founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Learn more here at www.HonestyForYourSkin.co.uk/Skin-Coach