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How to stay sun-safe this summer

Did you know that you should be protecting your skin from the sun year-round, not just when it’s really sunny? To get the inside scoop on the best way to do it, consultant dermatologist Dr Mary Sommerlad is here to debunk seven common myths about sun safety.

Living in the UK, where the weather is often cool and damp, many of us don’t prioritise sun care as much as we should. Most people see sun protection as something for hot days and holidays, and even then, they’re probably not applying enough. To be effective, your sunscreen needs to block invisible UVA light (often associated with skin ageing) and UVB light, the rays that cause the skin to burn. Some sunscreens also offer protection against visible light and infrared light, but UVA and UVB protection is the absolute minimum you should look for. 

Ideally, sun protection should be part of our daily skincare routine, not just something we take on holiday. There’s so much more we can all do to protect ourselves from sun damage, whatever our age – starting with correcting some damaging myths…

“All-day formulations mean I only have to apply it once”

I do recommend all-day formulations as a basic year-round sunscreen. However, they’re not effective enough if you’re doing anything that would cause you to sweat a lot, like physical activity, or if you’re dipping in and out of water. If you’re going to be active in the sun you’ll probably have to reapply your sunscreen several times to maintain the correct level of SPF protection. Try Riemann P20 Long Lasting Suncare SPF50 Spray 100ml.

“Wearing sunscreen might stop me getting enough vitamin D”

Lots of scientific research has now proved that sunscreen doesn’t stop your body making vitamin D – essential for strong teeth, bones and muscles – so that’s not an excuse for not using enough. If you come back from your holiday with sunscreen left in your bottle, you’re probably not using enough. Don’t hang on to old packs; check the expiry date on the bottle but as a general rule throw away opened sunscreen after a year. Try writing the date on the bottle when you open it as a reminder. Try Nivea Sun SPF30 Moisturising Lotion 200ml.

“High-SPF sunblocks will make my skin look chalky”

Mineral sunblocks with zinc oxide used to create a pale, ashy effect on the skin but now this effect is balanced out by other ingredients. You can also get colourless and even tinted formulations – I recently tried a tinted version that was designed to blend with any skin colour, and it worked. Some of my favourite sunscreens now also contain antioxidants, such as vitamin C, which help ‘mop up’ skin damage from UVA light and pollution. Try Ambre Solaire UV Water Clear Sun Cream Spray SPF30 150ml.

“Sunscreens are bad for the environment”

Environmentally friendly sunscreens have come a long way – choosing a mineral sunscreen is a great option, as they create a physical rather than chemical barrier to rays, using natural minerals. Many sunscreens are also suitable for vegans, avoiding ingredients such as honey and beeswax, chitin, collagen, elastin, lanolin and stearin. We’re also now seeing extra attention paid to ethically sourced ingredients. If you’re hoping to travel abroad, check to make sure your sunscreen is allowed in the country you’re visiting. Hawaii, for example, has banned certain ingredients. Try Jason Kids SPF45 Sunscreen.

“Sunscreens worsen skin issues such as acne and eczema”

Modern sunscreen technology is pretty incredible. Although mineral sunblocks potentially cause less irritation, chemical sunscreens are improving all the time. On the other hand, mineral sunscreens can make acne worse. My advice is to look for a product that says it’s ‘non-comedogenic’ – designed not to block pores – or one formulated for blemish-prone skin. Another new development is probiotic sunscreen, which helps maintain a healthy skin barrier. These products are most suitable for people with an impaired skin barrier because of very sensitive skin or eczema. Try Ultrasun SPF30 Face 50ml.

Sprays work best because they cover a larger area”

My simple advice when choosing a sunscreen is to pick a product you’ll actually use. Some people love sprays because they’re quick and easy – but how do you make sure you haven’t missed a bit? Personally, I think the easiest sunscreen to apply evenly is a cream, but I also like roll-ons – especially for families as they’re not as messy and they’re less likely to spill. My children are both under four years old, and they love to help me hold it. Making applying sunscreen interactive means they’re more likely to stay still long enough for you to put it on properly too. Try Childs Farm SPF50+ Roll-On Sun Lotion 70ml.

“You don’t need to use sunscreen if you have dark skin”

Sun damage doesn’t differentiate between skin tones – everyone who is exposed to the sun is susceptible to premature ageing, sunburn and irritation. Skin cancer is less common for people with dark skin, but it can happen. There’s also a risk of melasma, which causes patchy pigment. My advice to Black, Asian or olive-skinned patients is that there are many benefits to using sunscreen, ideally all year round. Try Hawaiian Tropic SPF30 Silk Hydration Sun Lotion 180ml.

Fancy some recipe inspiration for those summer days and evenings? Check out these delicious recipes perfect for alfresco dining.

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