Top 5 tips for keeping safe in the sunshine & protecting your skin

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UVA, UVB's, SPF's, Vitamin D supplements - what should you be doing for the best?

Woman sunbathing by a pool in the sunshine
Summer is nearly here so it's time to start getting serious about sun protection and sun creams. But where do you start to ensure your skin is truly covered?

Dermatologist Dr. Stefanie Williams has got a few ideas to ensure you keep your body safe from ageing and skin cancer.

Tip 1: Use an SPF 30-50 instead of your morning moisturiser with SPF 12-15

'It's true that the sun increases the risk of skin cancer while seriously ageing your skin. So yes - the single, most vital step you can take to keep your skin in great condition is to apply daily sun protection.

However, this is where the confusion begins. If you really want to reap the benefits of sun protection, you need much, much more than just SPF (sun protection factor) 12 or 15. The first reason is that the way we apply moisturiser means we rarely reach the level of protection stated on the pack. We simply don't use the same thick layers they slap on when they test sunscreens in the lab.

The second reason is that we only apply the moisturiser once, in the morning. In order to keep the sun protection level high, we would need to reapply the product every two hours or so throughout the day, which of course nobody does on a daily basis.

You need to apply a broad-spectrum protection with SPF (UVB) 30-50 so that you'll still have some decent protection in the afternoon when you need it most.

Tip 2: Make sure to get a product with broad-spectrum protection

Ultraviolet sun irradiation reaching the earth's surface is divided into UVA and UVB rays (UVC is usually filtered out by the atmosphere and does not reach us down here).

Simply put, you could say that UVB makes your skin burn, while UVA makes it age. And on top of that both of them are involved in skin cancer generation. While UVB has a higher energy, UVA is actually much more plentiful on the earth's surface and penetrates much deeper into the skin.

The SPF itself only tells us about protection against burning UVB rays, but says nothing about UVA protection at all. Filters providing UVA protection are for example titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. To get a good indication about a product's UVA protection, you need to know its PPD (persistent pigment darkening) factor, which doesn't always appear on the pack.

UVA star ratings are very misguiding. These ratings aren't absolute values - merely an indication of the ratio of UVA to UVB protection. You could have a product with SPF 50 but with only 4 stars for UVA, which in fact protects skin better from UVA than a lower SPF product with 5 UVA stars.

Alternatively some products display the newer UVA logo, which guarantees a standardized ratio of 1:3 UVA protection to UVB. Again, this new logo does not really tell us an exact PPD, but is marginally better than the star rating.

toned legs on the beach

Keep yourself protected against skin cancer in the sunshine

Tip 3: For maximum anti-ageing effects, wear sun protection all year around

Levels of ageing UVA fluctuate much less with the seasons compared to burning UVB rays. While in winter you might not get sunburned, your skin can still be exposed to significant amounts of UVA without even noticing.

UVA can also penetrate window glass and clouds, so has an impact even on cloudy days. So I always recommend using the same sun protection level of broad-spectrum SPF 30-50 in summer and winter.

Tip 4: For best protection always apply an antioxidant serum underneath your sun protection

Commercial sun protection creams only protect from UVB and UVA. However, newest research shows that it is not only ultraviolet irradiation (i.e. UVA and UVB), which damages our skin. The longer wavelengths in the sun's electromagnetic irradiation - i.e. infrared and visible light - can harm our skin too.

'Normal' sun protection creams unfortunately can't shield our skin from these types of rays. That's why we should wear a high-grade antioxidant product underneath your sun protection cream to help reduce the oxidative stress cause by free radical damage.

This also reduces free radical damage caused by pollution, smoking etc. As a general rule, the sun protection product should always be applied last (just before the make-up).

happy woman jumping in air

Your daily moisturiser containing SPF is not enough to protect your skin

Tip 5: Take a vitamin D supplement

The skin needs sunlight (namely UVB) to produce vitamin D and a sufficient level of vitamin D in our blood is crucial to overall health. However, as a dermatologist, I would much rather recommend taking vitamin D supplements to adjust your level if you're deficient.

At the end of the day, UV light not only ages your skin, but can also cause skin cancer. The amount of vitamin D your skin produces depends on a variety of factors including its colour - pale skins synthesize vitamin D faster than dark skins, but they also burn more easily. There is unfortunately no established level of sun exposure, which will guarantee to produce enough vitamin D without harming your skin.

With regards to dosage, for most people, a vitamin D supplementation of 1000 IU per day (25ug) is sufficient (the common dose of 400 IU as often present in multi-vitamin products is usually too low), but best to ask your doctor to measure your blood level first.'

Dr. Stefanie Williams is a Dermatologist and Medical Director of European Dermatology London,



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