Be sun safe

There is much confusion around sunscreen, from how much to apply to how often. We consult the experts.

17 October 2018
By Kassabaine Petersen

If you think nothing of spending your lunch break with your face turned up to the sky, or playing outdoors with your kids all day without applying sun protection, it’s time for a rethink.

The problem with sun exposure is that young skin appears to repair well, so apart from mild dehydration and peeling, the after effects don’t really show until you reach your 40s and beyond, when you’ll see dry skin, deep-seated wrinkles, age spots and tiny blood vessels appearing across your cheeks, just under your skin.

If you really want your fun in the sun and ensure you get your daily dose of vitamin D, stay out of the rays between 11am and 4pm, and wear proper sun protection.

Dermatologist Dr Nomphelo Gantsho answers key questions relating to suncare.

1. Why is sunscreen so important, particularly for darker skin tones?

For those who think darker skin tones exempt them from having to worry about sun protection, think again: the message from dermatologists is loud and clear – damaging UV rays can penetrate all skin types. “Because sun damage causes hyperpigmentation, sunscreen protects skin from sun rays that can lead to uneven skin tone and exacerbate the presence of hyperpigmentation and dark spots,” says Dr Gantsho.

2. Which ingredients should I look out for in my sunscreen?

Your chosen sunscreen should contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. “These ‘actives’ are physical compounds that, rather than absorbing rays, reflect them away from the skin. They block sun radiation by forming a barrier that sits on your skin,” says Dr Gantsho. They’re a good choice for those with sensitive skin,” she says.

3. My make-up contains SPF, does that mean I can skip sunscreen?

SPF in make-up is usually factor 15, which is not enough. “That means it does not have the proper amount of coverage or the capabilities to protect against UVA (ageing) and UVB (burning) rays. Always apply your own sunscreen before applying make-up,” the doctor urges. Make sure you layer your protection by having SPF present in your full routine.

4. How much protection do sunglasses provide? Do I still need to apply sunscreen around my eyes if I wear sunglasses?

While some sunglasses provide UV protection, this doesn’t extend to your whole face, so you still need sunscreen. Look for sunglasses that protect you from 99-100% of both UVA and UVB light. This includes those labelled as UV 400, which blocks all light rays with wavelengths up to 400 nanometers.

5. I’ve swapped my 
SPF15 for SPF30, does that mean I can go longer without reapplying?

No matter what the SPF is [15+ or 50+], you should reapply it every two hours if you’re in the sun all day, for example, at the beach. This is because sunscreen is removed through perspiration and by clothes touching our skin. If you do not reapply regularly, you can end up with unprotected areas, which could get burnt.

6. I always wear thin, cotton clothing when out, do I still need to wear sunscreen?

According to Cansa, clothing does lend some measure of protection, but not all fabric is created equal. Cotton clothing does not always protect against UV rays, unless stated. To be safe, wear a protective layer of sunscreen on your skin, which will help shield you from harmful UVB and UVA rays.

7. I only apply sunscreen when I get 
to the beach or pool, is this problematic?

Yes, because it’s advisable to use a sunscreen every time you’re going to be outside for more than 
20 minutes, even during winter. This is because the sun’s UV rays can begin to cause skin damage 
in just 15 minutes when exposed 
to the sun. Apply sunscreen liberally any time you’re outside during the day.

IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images