My patients often ask me "Do I really need to use sunscreen?" The simple answer is "Yes". It helps to protect not just against skin cancer but also helps to prevent premature skin ageing. They also ask for tips on "safe tanning" but unfortunately any tanning causes damage to the skin. Actually it is only around 100 years ago that tanning became fashionable but trends are slowly changing and nowadays deep tans are less likely to be considered attractive.
But it is still possible to enjoy the sun safely. Hats, clothing, and shade provide the best protection but sunscreen also helps to protect exposed sites.
Choosing a sunscreen
There are a lot of sunscreens available today and faced with so much choice, choosing a sunscreen can be confusing and overwhelming.
The following may help you better understand sunscreen:
The sun emits light of differing wavelengths. The most damaging rays are called UVA and UVB.
UVA rays are longer wavelength and penetrate the deeper layers of the skin and can also pass through glass. They are linked with both aging and skin cancer.
UVB rays are shorter and are the rays responsible for causing sunburn. We know that sunburn in childhood and adolescence is linked with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
The SPF or sun protection factor found on sunscreens refers to the level of protection against UVB light. All sunscreens in Europe, now also offer UVA protection which is at least one third of the SPF protection.
Select an SPF of minimum 15 for daily use whatever your skin colour
If you have very fair skin and plan to spend long periods outdoors, then select a sunscreen with minimum SPF 30.
Choose a sunscreen with the UVA logo. This indicates that the sunscreen meets EU regulations for UVA protection.
Select a sunscreen which suits you.
There are a number of different formulations available today which have been perfected over the years to improve ease of use. These include creams, tinted sunscreens for the face, oils, clear sprays and gels which are easier to apply to hair bearing skin or the scalp. Experiment to find one which you enjoy using. Keep sunscreen in the bathroom cabinet and during the summer months it can be used in place of a moisturiser. It can also be applied under foundation if required. Keep sunscreen in the car and in a bag so that you are always prepared. Even if it is cloudy when you leave the house the sun may come out at any time.