Choosing A Sunscreen: What You Need To Know

Do you know what to look for in a sunscreen?

With the hottest months of the year now upon us and holidays imminent, it’s high time to ramp up the sun-care regime. Skin cancer rates are now five times higher than they were in the 1970s, and it can only take a few bad bouts of sunburn to put you at risk. But which products should you trust? Here are a few tips on how to choose the best lotions for you, as well as some innovative ideas to help keep you safe in the sun.

Sun cream.

Image by Robert S Donovan under Creative Commons license.

Don’t go on brand-name alone

A recent report by Which? Magazine finally proved something we have always feared: that a prestigious brand name doesn’t necessarily guarantee a reliable level of protection. Several well-known makers of sun protection products fell short of their own claims when tested by an independent assessor, while some own-brand products (as well as many more of the better-known brands) outperformed them. So how can you guarantee that your lotion does what it says on the bottle?

In the first instance, you might want to check out this gallery that shows the products that passed and failed the recent round of tests, and choose your preferred lotion from that set. However, perhaps the more important message from this expose is that you should never rely on sunscreen alone when protecting your skin from the sun’s radiation.

Always take other precautions

Clothing should be a major player in your fight against those harmful UVA and UVB rays. It may seem counterintuitive to wear long sleeves in the sun, but you’ll feel a whole lot cooler and more comfortable if you’re not suffering with burnt and peeling skin.

It’s usually easy to figure out what clothes will work best as a barrier against the sun: as a rule of thumb, go for lighter materials that cover up vulnerable areas such as your shoulders, neck and face. But there are a few stores selling clothes that are specially optimised for UV protection, including Sun Togs and Decathlon.

Sun hats are a must if you’re going somewhere particularly sunny, and don’t forget that a good quality pair of sunglasses will also protect your face. When shopping for a hat, choose one with a wide brim that can be adjusted to protect your face from all angles as the sun changes position throughout the day. Kids should wear these for as much of the day as possible, and you may need to choose a hat with elastic or a ribbon tie to stop it from blowing away.

Find a product that suits your skin

Everyone has a slightly different preference when it comes to skincare products and this applies to sunscreen, too. A common problem is sensitivity to the ingredients in the sunscreen itself, particularly if you have allergies or are prone to eczema. But there are now plenty of products on the market that have been specially formulated for sensitive skins. If this applies to you, check out this useful article from Get the Gloss, which explains in detail which ingredients can cause problems - and how to avoid them without risking dangerous sun exposure.

A great place to look if you’re keen to avoid unnecessary additives while staying safe in the sun is an organic or eco-friendly brand such as Green People or Lavera, whose products may also be better for the environment than some competitors.

Sprays have become a popular alternative to lotions dispensed via a traditional-style bottle, and these should offer an equal level of protection. Many people find a spray is a more convenient and less messy way to apply sunscreen, so choosing a product in this format may be preferable for those travelling with children.

Stay within budget

One point that the recent investigations into sunscreens really hammered home was the fact that expensive often does not mean better in this particular market. Budget brands that come recommended include Asda’s Protect sun lotion (£3.50 for 200ml), Boots’ Soltan Dry Touch lotion (£5.50 for 200ml)  and Sainsbury’s Sun Protect lotion (£3.75 for 300ml). Take a look online before you buy, as these brands frequently feature in multi-buy deals that will result in a little bit of extra spending money for your holiday.

There’s an app (and a gadget) for that...

If you want to look beyond the traditional sun-care options of lotions and loose-fitting clothes, technology has risen to the challenge with a new breed of apps and wearables to ensure you’re doing all you can to avoid getting burned. The simplest of these can be downloaded to your smartphone, and are programmed to remind you whenever you need to top up your sunscreen.

The free Solar Protection app, available on Android, gives advice on how long you can spend in the sun without burning, whether you should apply a high factor sunscreen and what protective clothing you should wear - all based on your individual skin type.Be Skin Smart, available via iTunes, displays a live countdown on your screen, with an alert when your ‘safe’ time in the sun is up.

The June Bracelet, currently only available to order from the US, takes the thinking a step further and monitors your sun exposure in real time via a decorative crystal receptor worn on the wrist.

Finally, if you think you already have all the sun protection products you need, be sure to check the expiry date on any lotions you’re planning to take on your trip: most lose their effectiveness within 2-3 years of purchase, and as this NHS article makes clear, you won’t want to risk using out-of-date sunscreen.

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Written by Abi Silvester, a London-based writer and editor with a passion for great food, fine wine, coffee and cats; always planning my next trip! Follow her on Twitter.

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