Sunscreen: Essential guide to staying safe in the sun

Learn before you burn... Survey reveals we're unsure of what ratigns mean

Learn before you burn… Survey reveals we’re unsure of what ratigns mean

Summer has arrived, so it’s time to bring the sun cream out of retirement to protect against those harmful rays as you enjoy the early summer sun. However… do you really understand what all the UVA, UVB and countless other acronyms really mean? Read on and protect your skin…

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has revealed that just 8% of Brits understand how sunscreen works and what to look for when buying a product – putting us at risk of damaging our skin.

Heatwaves in the UK and trips to foreign beaches make it important we understand just what the likes of SPF, UVB, UVA, UVA and UVC really mean.

Here’s our instant guide to what the acronyms mean in a real-world situation and how you can protect your skin…

Check both the SPF factor and UVA star rating

Check both the SPF factor and UVA star rating

What to look for when buying sunscreen

To ensure you get complete protection and cut the risk of permanently damaging your skin, you should always look for the following ratings when choosing your sunscreen product:

UVA PROTECTION: This is denoted by a UVA ‘star’ rating of nought (lowest) to five (highest)
UVB PROTECTION: This is denoted by the SPF rating from 2 (lowest) to 50+ (highest)

Just one-in-three people realise that they should check the UVA star rating and instead simply consider the SPF protection number when selecting a sunscreen. Read on to find out the full facts and why you should be paying close attention the UVA star rating, too.

What the acronyms mean

Find out about the rays which burn and those that age your skin

Find out about the rays which burn and those that age your skin

Here’s a list of the three-letter acronyms with big implications on our health.

SPF: This is Sun Protection Factor and the SPF rating refers to protection from UVB rays only and not harmful UVA rays. So, along with the SPF rating, you will need to look at the UVB protection level too. SPF protection levels start at 2 ( lowest) and top out at 50+ for the maximum. Protection against UVA rays is indicated by a “star” rating.

UVB: The are short-wave ultraviolet B rays and the major risk factor for burning and causing skin cancer. These will cause the instant pain of sunburn and longer-term health risks, so ensure you always wear lotion with a suitable SPF factor.

UVA: Also known as long-wave ultraviolet A rays, these skin-penetrating bad-boys are responsible for skin ageing and wrinkles – along with skin cancer. Make sure you buy a product with a decent UVA star rating. Again, don’t confuse this with the SPF rating, which covers UVB rays. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society research revealed that just one-in-three people checked this rating when choosing their cream.

UVC: These are the most damaging of rays, but luckily they are also completely filtered by the earth’s atmosphere.

How much should I apply: Cancer Research UK says applying two tablespoons of sunscreen every two hours when out in the sun in the UK and more in hotter climes

When to avoid the sun: Experts advise people to stay in the shade between the hours of 11:00 and 15:00 or to cover up in direct sunshine between these times.

Can you still use sun protection products after its ‘use-by’ date: Sun protection creams and products will degrade over time, so using one that’s passed its use-by date could put you or children at risk by increasing the chance of burning. Most creams have a shelf life of two – three years.

Heatwave health

Along with protecting your skin, you should also follow these tips to ensure you and others stay safe in ‘heatwave’ temperatures…

  • look out for others, especially older people, young children and babies and those with underlying health conditions
  • drink plenty of water – sugary, alcoholic and caffeinated drinks can make you more dehydrated
  • close curtains on rooms that face the sun to keep indoor spaces cooler and remember it may be cooler outdoors than indoors
  • open windows when it feels cooler outside and it’s safe to do so
  • never leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle, especially infants, young children or animals
  • try to keep out of the sun between 11am to 3pm
  • if you have to go out in the heat, walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear a hat
  • avoid physical exertion in the hottest parts of the day
  • wear light, loose fitting cotton clothes


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