You know which ingredients to look for in a sun cream , and how to prevent and stop the dreaded itchy prickly heat rash that so many of us suffer from… but do you really know how to look after your sensitive skin in the sun?
With an impaired skin barrier and a tendency for redness and rashes, it’s no wonder that sensitive types find the heat of the summer months problematic. Yet so many of us, sensitive or otherwise, still fail to protect ourselves adequately in the sun; skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK and is on the rise, with over 100,000 new cases diagnosed every year.
Statistics from WhatClinic.com show enquiries for skin cancer screening are up 198 per cent in the last year, proving that awareness is thankfully also on the increase - but are you really protecting your skin in the first place? Does sensitivity mean you need a higher factor? Does it matter if you use a spray or a cream? Is there any point in makeup containing SPF? I asked the experts to state the facts once and for all…
1. You should be wearing sun cream every day
This is a rule that applies to everyone, sensitive or not, but worth repeating until it sinks in: yes, you need to wear SPF in the winter. Yes, even on really cloudy days. Despite the fact that sun cream is still taxed as a luxury at a rate of 20 per cent, it is a necessity in safeguarding against skin cancer - and it’ll help ward off those wrinkles as an added bonus. "Sunscreen should be worn at least on the face and exposed skin all year-round,” explains Dr Carl Thornfeldt, dermatologist and founder of sensitive skin range Epionce . "UVA rays occur even when it is cloudy outside, and the UVA rays are the ones that can lead to skin ageing and cancer."
2. Your sensitive skin is at a higher risk
Readers of this column will know that a sensitive, reactive skin will have a thin or impaired skin barrier , which needs repairing in order to be healthy again. This weakened state of the skin’s own defences puts you more at risk when you’re in the sun, no matter what your skin tone or tanning capabilities. "An impaired skin barrier can definitely make skin more susceptible to sun damage,” says Dr Granite, Consultant Dermatologist at London's Cadogan Clinic. "Pigment disorders such as vitiligo also cause skin to be more sensitive to UV radiation and can increase the risk of skin cancer in those areas." The Cadogan Clinic has recently launched their British Skin Foundation-approved Mole Check service, which allows you to have your moles checked, and if necessary removed in less than 24 hours; or if you notice any changes you can visit your GP.
Giving your skin an added layer of barrier-boosting ingredients first could help. "If the skin barrier is damaged, sunscreen isn’t able to bind as well to the skin, providing less protection. Using a barrier repairing product before application of sunscreen will help the sunscreen be more effective,” says Dr Thornfeldt. Check out my article on building up your barrier here .
3. The sun will exacerbate rosacea
“It’s extremely important to use sunscreen daily to help manage rosacea, as UV radiation is one of the common triggers. Ideally an SPF of 50 should be worn that provides broad-spectrum, UVA and UVB protection,” explains Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist & British Skin Foundation Spokesperson. That said, it can ease the symptoms of psoriasis and acne - though this isn’t a green light for heading out in the sun with no protection. "Sunlight can help conditions such as psoriasis to clear up, but the benefits of this must be weighed up against the potential skin cancer risk and SPF30+ or above is still recommended."
4. Stick to the over 30s
No matter what your skin tone, a higher factor is recommended to keep your sensitive skin protected, as Dr Mahto tells me. "When choosing a sunscreen look for a high protection SPF (SPF 30 or more) to protect against UVB, and the UVA circle logo and/or 4 or 5 UVA stars to protect against UVA. SPF 30+ is generally recommended for everyone to provide an adequate amount of protection against UVB radiation. Those with extremely fair skin may benefit from higher protection such as SPF 50."
5. Know your formula
It doesn’t matter whether you pick a cream or gel, spray or once-a-day application: just know how to apply it correctly and you’ll be sun safe. Which? recently revealed a report questioning the safety of once-a-day sun creams, but the method used to produce these findings has been criticised as irrelevant to how SPF is used by consumers, as the products were tested on subjects who then wore t-shirts while sitting on a chair (which led to the protection ‘rubbing off’).
Ultrasun, one of my personal favourite sun creams with a once-a-day formula, advises to always apply before you go out in the sun (your protection may be lost to evaporation otherwise) and has always been reliable in my experience; meanwhile the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) reiterates that products will adhere to regulations, and that extended wear sun screens are not created in order to spend longer in the sun - only to protect adequately with one application when sun exposure cannot be avoided.
Application, really, is the key, no matter what your formula of choice. "You must ensure you apply enough sunscreen to ensure it’s effective,” says Dr Mahto. "An ounce of sunscreen should be enough to cover an adult from head to toe; this is roughly equivalent to a shot-glass full. For face and neck application you should be using approximately one-quarter of a teaspoon amount at each site."
6. Top up with makeup
Following the popularity of Korean beauty trends and products such as BB and CC creams , sun protection is cropping up in makeup products all the time, be it in your new lipstick or your under eye concealer. But is SPF in makeup really any good? The answer is yes and no; used alone, makeup containing SPF is unlikely to protect you given that it can rub off through the day, is rarely broad spectrum and is not applied in the same amount as your sun cream would be. However, it is a great way to top up your protection, particularly when it comes to mineral makeup which contains sensitive-friendly physical filters.
"For best protection a patient should apply two layers of sunscreen – one layer of a “normal” sunscreen and then the makeup – especially depending on how high of an SPF the makeup has and whether or not it provides broad spectrum protection,” Dr Thornfeldt tells me. "There are some excellent mineral makeups that have zinc and titanium as their key sun protection ingredients with SPF values as high as 50, such as Colorescience Sunforgettable SPF 50 , £41.50."
7. SPF is on the clock
Wearing a sun cream doesn’t mean you won’t burn, or even that you won’t tan; it simply puts it off. "A sunscreen's sun protection factor (SPF) refers to the theoretical amount of time you can stay in the sun without getting burned. So for example, if you use an SPF of 30 you can stay in the sun 30 times longer than you could without protection before getting burned. Additionally, higher factors block out more UVB rays; SPF 15 filters out approximately 93% of UVB rays, whereas SPF 30 filters out about 97%,” explains Dr Granite. The SPF refers only to UVB protection, and unless those percentages reach 100, some rays will still get through - which means you can slowly, safely tan through sun cream. Even better? Tanning slowly will mean a longer lasting colour as you’ve built up the melanin slowly rather than sending your skin into trauma by burning.
Heading off on holiday? Here are my top tips for looking after sensitive skin when you're abroad