Product watch: Dispelling the myths about sun protection

A fake tan is the only safe kind and while most of us are clued up about sun protection, shopping for the perfect product can be confusing. Rachel Marie Walsh dispels some myths and offers application tips.

Myth #1 ‘Once A Day’ SPF Products Don’t Need Reapplication

It is safest to reapply an SPF product labelled ‘once a day’ every couple of hours, as you would with sun protection of any other kind.

A recent Which? survey that tested the claims of leading high-street brands’ ‘once-a-day’ sunscreens saw an average 74% decrease in SPF protection after six to eight hours. This means that over the course of a day, a SPF30 ‘once-a-day’ product could drop down to just SPF8.

The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) also recommends against relying on single applications of this kind of product, noting that the majority of us do not apply sunscreen appropriately. We often apply it too thinly, particularly on difficult to reach areas.

We also often overlook factors that exposure to water, sweating, towel drying and any form of abrasion can remove filters from the surface of the skin.

You should apply at least six full teaspoons of product to your body, distributing more than half a teaspoon to each arm and the face/neck (including ears, hair part and bald spots), and just over one teaspoon to each leg, and the front and back of the body. This is the amount used when products are tested for their SPF, according to the BAD. Using less reduces the protection to a higher degree than is proportionate — for example, applying half the required amount can actually reduce the protection by as much as two-thirds. The minimum application described above is good, but more is better!

Myth #2 All SPF Products Make Oily Skin Shinier

Oily skin may not seem like a blessing in your teens or even your twenties, but as you age you will likely appreciate its natural moisturising factor and enduring radiance. Please do not try to curb shine by skipping sun-protection creams in the interim! 

You may even think the sun ‘dries out’ your skin, but UV damage enlarges pores and can actually exacerbate excess oil-production long term. There are SPF-enhanced powder foundations available at all price points, but relying on your makeup is problematic (see below). 

An oil-free SPF moisturiser with a matte finish like La Roche-Posay Anthelios Dry Touch Gel BB SPF 50+, €24.49, is perfect for both sensitive and oily skin. The fragrance-free formula has a slight tint that offsets the whitening effect of the mineral sunscreens within. This should not alter the shade of makeup applied on top but is also flattering worn alone.

Myth #3 SPF-Enhanced Foundation Saves Your Face

Makeup with broad-spectrum sun protection is a great thing, especially when it is foundation with an SPF-rating of 30 or higher (remember to check for the plus signs that indicate UVA protection too). However, your super-duper skin-perfecting foundation may perform so well you need only a tiny amount to achieve the look you want, far too little to shield your face from the sun. 

Using a BeautyBlender sponge or stippling brush to sheer the formula out looks gorgeous but diminishes the sunscreen ingredients’ protective powers. 

I’m not saying your SPF foundation is useless (and I highly recommend Dior Skin Star Studio Foundation SPF30++, €49.50, for all skin types), but it should be just one step in your sun-safe regime. 

A broad-spectrum SPF moisturiser or primer is an ideal base. Try Mary Kay TimeWise Day Solution SPF30, €46, for normal-to-dry skin. Wait 3–5 minutes for your SPF base to set before applying foundation and brush lightly or use a gentle hand to avoid dispersing the filters beneath too much.

Myth #4 Skin Can Be UV-Protected Through Supplements

Supplements that claim to aid your skin’s natural UV defences sound too good to be true. If you take the word “aid” to mean “amplify to the point of making protective clothing and topical products superfluous”, then they really are. 

These capsules are invariably rich in phytonutrients (extracts from plants capable of auto-limiting environmental damage), all of which you’ve probably seen on the ingredients list of one anti-ageing serum or other. 

Vitamin E, certain flavonoids, and the carotenoids b-carotene, lycopene and lutein all support natural collagen production but can also mitigate the oxidative impact of UV rays. Vitamin C and minerals like selenium and zinc are frequently added to promote cell repair.

These ingredients are all excellent immune-boosters abundant in organic fruit, nuts and vegetables. If you’re not getting enough, then a dietary supplement like Advanced Nutrition Programme ’Skin Defender,’ €48, is no bad thing. Consult your doctor before trying any, as even natural ingredients can conflict with medication.

There is evidence that Vitamin E, for example, has some UV-protective properties and it is therefore a mainstay of these supplements. 

However this vitamin is also a natural blood thinner, so the amount anyone using an anticoagulant takes should be monitored.

Myth #5 SPF Creams For Children And Babies Are Always Kindest To Skin

This seems like a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately, even household-name skincare brands offer child-targeted lotions with non-fatty alcohol (sometimes listed as ‘alcohol denat or ‘SD alcohol’). 

This thins texture and speeds absorption but also is also drying, irritating to atopic conditions and sensitising over time. Other nasties to look out for include fragrance (including natural perfumes like limonene, linalool and geraniol), and the sensitising preservatives methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone. 

Fatty alcohols are often used in skin and haircare as thickeners or emollients. They assist skin’s natural moisture barrier and are generally well tolerated. 

Common examples include behenyl alcohol and cetearyl alcohol. A comprehensive list can be found at cosmeticsinfo.org. My favourite sun protection products for little ones are J¯asön ‘Sunbrellas’ Family Natural Sunblock SPF45, €12.60 at Holland & Barrett, Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Sunscreen + WetForce for Sensitive Skin & Children, €41, and Eau Thermale Avène Very High Protection Emulsion SPF 50+, €20.99.

Sun-protection products in spray-bottles are attractive family buys for convenience’s sake, but the US Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Working Group have both raised concerns that such products pose an inhalation risk and make one less likely to apply an adequately thick and even layer of protection. With so many identical formulas available in both spray and tube packaging, the latter seems a smarter choice.


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