Things You Need To Know About Sunscreen….

model ruth crilly

As promised, the sunscreen Q&A with Dr Marko Lens. A little later than anticipated, because there were a few extra questions that I had, including one regarding the recent Which? report on SPFs. If you didn’t read the Which? report then you can do so by clicking here – it raises some quite important issues regarding the way that brands label their sun protection and the claims that they make about exactly how much protection the user is getting. They tested a number of sun creams to see whether or not they provided the SPF30 and UVA protection stated on the packaging, but three of them failed. Now I’m not wholly convinced by this report, I must say; I don’t like huge, scaremongery, headline-grabbing reveals when not all of the information is readily available. There’s not much said about the testing itself – they just show tiny dots of sunscreen being applied to skin – and they don’t give any hard facts away. For example, Hawaiian Tropic failed the SPF30 test, but by how much? What if it had provided a sun protection factor of 28 or 29, for example? The way the test results are worded it makes it sound as though the failed products are completely unfit for purpose. A little more detail would be good…

Anyway, on with the show. Dr Marko has kindly answered some burning questions (pun intended!) for me and de-bunked a few myths. If you want answers to some more basic SPF questions then have a read of the piece I wrote last year after interrogating Dr M. “Do I Really Need to Wear SPF?” Dr Marko Lens, for those who haven’t read about him before, is a highly sought after reconstructive and plastic surgeon and an internationally renowned figure in the areas of skin ageing and skin cancer. You can read his biog here, but I hope you’ll agree that he’s a very useful man when it comes to questions about sun care and sun safety.

the which spf report

 What are the most common misconceptions about sunscreens and the way in which we should use them?

–  Misconception: “I do not need sunscreen as I have dark skin and I never burn”.  Fact: all skin types including black and Asian skin need to protect their skin with a sunscreen.

– Misconception: “I do not want sunscreen with high SPF as I want to achieve a tan while sunbathing”. Fact: dermatologists around the globe recommend the use of a broad spectrum SPF 30 which provides high protection against UVB and UVA light. You can still achieve a tan while using SPF 30.

–  Misconception: “I do not need to apply a lot of sunscreen to protect the skin”.  Fact: the recommended dose is 2 mg per cm2. To cover the face we would need 1/4 of the teaspoon to supply adequate cover and protection.

–  Misconception: “One good application of the sunscreen is enough while staying outdoors”. Fact: sunscreens should be applied every 2 hours.

–  Misconception: “I do not need a sunscreen while driving”. Fact: wearing SPF protection while driving is just as important. Sunscreen protection is advisable even if the windows are closed.

–  Misconception: “Use of sunscreens alone is sufficient to protect me against sun damage and skin cancer”.  Fact: you also need to wear sunglasses and protective clothing.

–  Misconception: “I have my make up with SPF and therefore I do not need sunscreen”. Fact: the majority of make-up products contain a low SPF and this is not sufficient for protection.

–  Misconception: “I can safely tan if I use good sunscreen”. Fact: there is no “safe” tan even if you use the most efficient sunscreen.

–  Misconception: “Use of sunscreen can protect my skin if I use it while in the sun bed”.

– Other common “slip ups” include forgetting to apply sunscreen to the lips, ears and scalp and thinking that you have to avoid the eye area when you apply sunscreen.

do i need to wear spf

As a doctor, do you feel that the public are educated about sun protection adequately, or do you find the information that’s widely available to be lacking?

I do not think that the public is well educated about sun protection. Everyone should be educated on basic guidelines for sun protection:

– Seek shade and limit time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

– Wear protective clothing: long-sleeve shirts, long pants, hats with a wide brim and sunglasses.

– Use broad-spectrum sunscreen (protects against UVA and UVB rays) with sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or greater

– Use sunscreens every day if you will be outside (even on cloudy days)

– Re-apply sunscreen approximately every two hours and after swimming

There are so many sunscreens available; how do we know which ones are effective? Are there any particular ingredients or labelling phrases to look out for?

Consumers should always look for broad-spectrum sunscreen which is a sunscreen providing protection against both UVB and UVA light. Make sure to see a sign or text for broad-spectrum. Also, use SPF 30 and above. SPF 30 provides high protection. A SPF below 30 is not providing high protection which is the recommendation in order to prevent sun damage and skin cancer.  Sunscreen alone is not enough. Therefore always look for formulas that include various antioxidants that are neutralising damaging free radicals. Also, ingredients that boost our immune system are good to increase protection of the skin against UV rays.

You have mentioned to me in the past that it can be very difficult and very expensive to both develop and properly test sun protection products; why is that?

Developing a good and effective sunscreen is a long process and also quite expensive. It is not easy to develop a sunscreen that will provide broad spectrum protection with SPF 30 and to have good sensorial profile. Testing the efficacy of the sunscreen is expensive particularly if we want to test the effect of the sunscreen on DNA damage.

And as for the new Zelens sunscreen; would you say that this is suitable for all skin types and colours? Where in a Skincare routine would you apply it?

It is suitable for all skin types and colours. It is oil-free and hypoallergenic. It should be used as a last step in skin care regime, just before application of the makeup.

Is there a reason that you didn’t develop an SPF50?

SPF30 absorbs 97% of UVB while SPF50 absorbs 98%- really clinically not relevant.

What are your thoughts on the recent “Which Report” on sunscreens? 

It is not acceptable to claim  SPF when actually you cannot achieve this minimum efficacy of a sunscreen against UVB. However, it is also necessary to use an appropriate test to ensure reproducibility and comparability of the results. Thus, according to the recommendations from the EC , the
International Sun protection Factor Test Method should be used as a standard test in Europe. [Which? say they tested to “strict British Standards”, but I’m afraid I don’t know how these tests compare. I shall endeavour to find out! Ruth]

Finally, I know that many people are concerned about their Vitamin D intake if they use an SPF daily. What are your thoughts on this? 

Vitamin D is very important for our health. Sun exposure is critical for vitamin D production. However, we know that sun exposure is a major factor in causing skin aging and skin cancer. Therefore a balance between sun exposure and sun protection is needed. SPF protects the skin from UVB and by doing this reduces the skin capacity to produce vitamin D. I would recommend SPF 30 which absorbs 97% of the UVB.  Also, I would always encourage people to use more fish in their diet and also to use Vitamin D supplement. 

You can read about Dr Marko Lens’ new SPF in last week’s post here.

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  1. May 27, 2014 / 8:39 am

    Really interesting post! Learnt a lot of new things. I’m quite paranoid about sun protection so it is.great to hear information from the experts!


  2. Michelle
    May 27, 2014 / 8:55 am

    Ruth, thanks for this. Really very useful. I read your post on Zelens’ sunscreen and I have a question. Is this sunscreen also a moisturiser? It merely states sunscreen but you say in your post that moisturiser can be skipped if using this. The reason I ask is that I have a brilliant daytime moisturiser that I love and don’t want to replace. I am looking for something that is purely a sunscreen as I don’t want to use two moisturisers on my already oily skin. Also, since Dr Zelens advises sunscreen should be applied every two hours, can you tell us how you get round this problem when you are wearing makeup? Thanks a million Ruth.

  3. May 27, 2014 / 9:50 am

    After having suffered through acute back pain and nail chipping .. I got a few tests done and had severe Vit D deficiency. Have been on supplements ever since and my health has improved so much! This article is so damn important for everyone to read! Thanks Ruth!

    My favorite Makeup Brushes Review | TheConscienceFund

  4. Rachel
    May 27, 2014 / 10:03 am

    Interesting. I had no idea there was only a 1% difference in UVB absorption between SPF 30 and SPF 50.

    What I wonder: If it is important to re-apply SPF every two hours, do you re-apply over your make-up or use one of those powder SPFs for any re-application? I put SPF on in the morning under make-up and then do no further re-application. But I walk a long distance to and from work… sounds like I should have some sort of re-application before I leave work, even though it will be on top of my make-up.

    Thank you for this post, Ruth.

  5. Vanessa
    May 27, 2014 / 11:46 am

    I too wonder about re-applying sunscreen after a few hours when I am wearing make-up. Is a physical sunscreen the answer or does that need re-applying too?

    One last thing. I’m from LA and now living in England(2 years now). I was always used to having an extensive selection of SPF moisturisers/lotions to choose from, anywhere from SPF 30 to 100. I have found it very interesting that on the average high street it is hard to find an affordable facial moisturiser that is at least SPF 30(most are SPF 15). Many English people that I have met skip SPF altogether(not to say that is the norm). I wonder if there is a correlation between the SPF’s available on the high street and the average person’s use of sun protection. I tend to hoard affordable facial sunscreens when I visit LA!

    Thanks for this post Ruth. There are so many misconceptions out there and I hear my English husband say all the time that he doesn’t need sunscreen. Once he gets a small tan he says it’s his body’s own “barrier”. I’ve since read this, but still think sunscreen is important! Men! :P

  6. May 27, 2014 / 1:48 pm

    Great post! Being a pale, freckley red head I have burnt myself far too many times and now swear by using factor 30 constantly, even in cloudy rainy London. No more burn for me and a top of st tropez helps me to look less pasty!

  7. May 27, 2014 / 2:07 pm

    Loved this! I am extremely pale and some of the rules get a little confusing. How does one put sunscreen on their scalp, though–powdered sunscreen?
    I’m still on the hunt for a physical (not chemical) sunscreen I like, because most of them are full of silicones or oils, which don’t agree with my skin.

    • Rebecca
      June 4, 2014 / 5:00 pm

      You just wear a hat! Coming from Oz no one goes in the sun without a hat on.

  8. mysteries1984
    May 27, 2014 / 2:20 pm

    I feel there’s some confusing information above:

    ‘You can still achieve a tan while using SPF 30.’
    ‘…there is no “safe” tan even if you use the most efficient sunscreen.’

    You can’t really have both, can you?

    • Hannah
      May 31, 2014 / 5:56 am

      I agree. That was the only part of this interview that made me question him. I know I definitely get color if I wear only SPF 30 (and reapply religiously). To me, that indicates that SPF30 simply is not enough for my fair skin, since I do get visible sun damage when I wear it.

      I think it’s accurate to say that many people will still achieve a bit of a tan with SPF 30, however, that tan is evidence of skin damage so it is not “safe” even though it was achieved with skin protected by some sunscreen.

      • mysteries1984
        May 31, 2014 / 2:53 pm

        Yeah, I was hoping for a response. I’m the same as you; I’m very pale and burn even with SPF 30, so now I use Elta MD SPF 46 and love it. Like you say, it’s not ‘safe’ as far as I can see. Clarification would be great.

      • May 31, 2014 / 11:49 pm

        Yes it is rather conflicting. I shall ask when I get back from my trip. xxx

  9. poonam
    May 27, 2014 / 4:22 pm

    Hello everyone. Thank you ruth for this post.I come from mauritius, never wore sunscreen before the age of 22.People hardly wear any sunscreen there. I started to wear sunscreen when i came to france 12 years back because i felt like my skin was literally burning here in bordeaux. It’s really weird because there are very rare cases of skin cancer in mauritius, unlike here.Anyways, i use the “bariésun” spf 30 from Uriage for my face and the Vicky skin cell sun protection spf 50 for the rest of my body.The uriage is for sensitive skin and it’s very moisturising. I wear it alone ( i never wear foundation).There are high brands like sisley who make gorgeous sunscreen products but they are very expensive , specially when you have to put loads of them everyday. The avene products are really good as well, they are not greasy, specially those with the “toucher sec”.

    See ya , xoxo

  10. May 27, 2014 / 4:39 pm

    As some one who has a chronic Vitamin D deficiency, I supplement and try to get 30 minutes of sun 2-3 times a week. Due to my skin tone, 3 10 minute exposures a day should be sufficient according to my doctor. She also recommended letting my arms or legs be the ones to absorb the rays. Not my face. Other then that if I’m going to have more then very intermittent exposure(almost every suncream or sunscreen breaks me out horribly) I put on sunscreen!

  11. May 28, 2014 / 3:19 pm

    Sunscreens are so important (even in rainy London). That’s why I’m hosting a giveaway over on my blog and will be sending the winner the La Roche-Posay 50+ SPF and Avéne Eau Thermale. Enter to win!



  12. May 28, 2014 / 4:45 pm

    Thanks for sharing this super informative post, Ruth! Always such helpful tips to remember and from an expert, no less! I am craving so many Zelens products right now :)

  13. May 28, 2014 / 6:48 pm

    Wow…thanks for sharing, this is really useful and interesting. I’ve always been so casual about sunscreen but since reaching thirty I’m really starting to notice the change in texture and pigment to my skin and so need to be more careful otherwise I’ll look like that old bird from There’s Something About Mary before I know it. Didn’t know you should reapply every two hours either…will defo be applying more on my holidays next week! eek!
    Katie x

  14. Rebecca
    May 28, 2014 / 11:55 pm

    One of my biggest pet peeves is that so many lip balms either have no or insufficient levels of SPF protection!

  15. Claire
    May 29, 2014 / 6:02 pm

    I subscribe to the Which magazine, which contains all the details of the testing they did. Worth seeking it out.

  16. Hannah
    May 31, 2014 / 5:52 am

    This was a pleasure to read, and I was glad to see that he agreed with what my dermatologist (and peer-reviewed scientific studies) have been saying for years. I feel like all to often, those in the cosmetics world try to reinvent the wheel (to be innovative or just to sell products) and end up just getting it all wrong.

  17. Pretty Pale
    June 16, 2014 / 7:41 pm

    I have very fair and sensitive skin, so I use spf 50 daily. However, I also like to wear some makeup on top but I worry that this might be compromising my sunscreen. Do you have any thoughts on this, Ruth? Are any foundation application methods less likely to disturb the sunscreen barrier than others, and is it better to use foundation with spf as an added layer of protection, or might the to two sunscreens react badly together and negate each other? I’ve heard something about avobenzone and titanium dioxide not mixing. Argh – Help!!!

  18. Jo Rutt
    June 7, 2016 / 4:34 pm

    Hi Ruth, just found your blog and it’s fantastic! Really interesting reading the questions and answers above. Anyway, I stumbled upon Ladival Sun Protection in Boots last year and was wondering if you had come across it, and what you thought? Thanks Jo

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