Welcome to Sun Blocked, Refinery29’s global call-to-action to wake up to the serious dangers of tanning. No lectures or shaming, we promise. Instead, our goal is to arm you with the facts you need to protect your skin to the best of your ability, because there’s no such thing as safe sun.
Whether or not ageing factors into your beauty routine, wearing a daily dose of sunscreen has endless benefits for the health of your skin. However, while it has long been a product dermatologists and facialists can't stop talking about, there's no denying that sunscreen has garnered a bit of a bad reputation in past years.
It wouldn't be entirely wrong to say that sunscreen has previously been a product lagging behind. Think thick, white formulas which often clog pores, feel uncomfortably greasy and leave behind a grey cast. Now, though, skincare innovation is making sunscreen a must-have product for everyone.
What is sunscreen and why do you need to wear SPF?
Sunscreen helps protect the skin against the sun's damaging UV rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin's layers and, over time, they can cause skin cancer and signs of ageing, such as wrinkles. UVB rays cause sunburn and change the colour of your skin and can also cause skin cancers.
You might see sunscreen referred to simply as SPF. This stands for 'sun protection factor', the number on the label which tells you how much longer the sunscreen will allow you to stay in the sun without burning, according to consultant dermatologist Dr Emma Wedgeworth. That number relies on you applying 30ml of sunscreen during each application and topping up regularly throughout the day. Some sunscreens also feature antioxidants: ingredients that provide further protection against environmental factors such as infrared light (also produced by the sun and which can cause pigmentation such as melasma and age spots) and pollution. In other words, sunscreen is an all-rounder.
What's the best sunscreen?
I've tried countless SPF products and I always come back to one skincare brand in particular: Heliocare. It isn't available on the high street but you can buy it from trusted skincare websites including Just My Look, Face The Future and Dermacare Direct, or direct from the official UK website. Heliocare 360 Water Gel SPF50+, £28.99, was recommended to me by many dermatologists when I was struggling to find a sunscreen that didn't clog my pores, cause spots or feel greasy on my skin. Since giving it a go three years ago, I can't do without it.
What's so special? Unlike other sunscreens, it's completely weightless. It absorbs quickly, protects skin from UVA, UVB, infrared light and visible light (blue light, emitted from screens) and is non-comedogenic, which means it's a lot less likely to clog pores. The ingredients also boast antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E to further protect against the environment. It dries matte and invisible, making it a great option for darker skin, and somehow blurs blemishes and scars and makes skin soft, too.
The Heliocare range also features 360 Gel Oil-Free SPF50, £24.99, which is ever so slightly tinted. Model and actress Poppy Delevingne (who has reactive and irritable skin) swears by it, as does top consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto. This product is also a staple in my skincare routine and I can honestly say my skin is much better since using it.
This brilliant sunscreen is swiftly followed by Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF30, £34, Glossier Invisible Shield SPF30, £20, and La Roche-Posay Anthelios Age Correct Cream SPF50, £23.25. Gone are the days when sunscreen sat heavy and obvious on skin. Unseen Sunscreen does exactly what it says on the tin and the clear formula is undetectable, making it a top pick for all skin tones. Like Heliocare, it deflects UVA, UVB and blue light, and doubles as a makeup primer after moisturiser. Invisible Shield is also clear and similar in texture, doesn't clog pores, works for all skin tones and makes skin dewy. If your skin is on the dry side and needs extra moisture, Anthelios Age Correct nourishes and lends a subtle glow.
How do you apply sunscreen?
Sunscreen should be applied after moisturiser as the last step in your morning skincare routine. If you have very oily skin and the sunscreen you choose is hydrating enough, you could skip the moisturiser and just apply that. "The damage happens when people under-apply sunscreen, they have applied sparingly or they are not reapplying sunscreen," says Holly Thaggard, skincare expert and founder and CEO of Supergoop! "When using products with SPF in them, such as foundation or CC cream, chances are you are never applying enough to get the maximum protection needed," which is why it pays to ditch products containing SPF (yes, even moisturiser) and opt for a specially targeted sunscreen like the above. "I say, apply your sunscreen like you think you have done it beautifully and apply it again," says Holly. Pay special attention to your eyelids and under-eyes, areas which tend to be missed, as well as your lips.
Do you need to reapply sunscreen throughout the day?
Holly says that no SPF is long-lasting and in two hours it breaks down in sunlight. "If you apply it that morning, come 3pm you have to reapply," says Holly, who suggests building an SPF wardrobe. "This can consist of a couple of products that you can layer into your skincare routine or apply over makeup, and they should be 30 or 50 in factor." Holly's top pick is Glowscreen, £34, which contains hydrating hyaluronic acid, followed by a powder SPF to dust over your face throughout the day. Try (Re)setting 100% Mineral Powder SPF35, £34, or Brush On Block SPF30 Mineral Powder Sunscreen, £40.
SPF mists are also gaining popularity among experts. Consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk recently took to Instagram to share her love of Garnier Ambre Solaire Sensitive Hydrating Face Sun Cream Mist SPF50, £12, while La Roche-Posay Anthelios Invisible Anti-Shine Face Mist, £15.30, is unnoticeable on skin and works well on oily skin types.
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What's the difference between chemical and mineral sunscreen?
You can work out whether your chosen sunscreen is mineral or chemical from the ingredients list, and choosing one or the other is all down to personal preference.
"Mineral sunscreens contain the minerals titanium dioxide and zinc oxide," Dr Kemi Fabusiwa, skin specialist and founder of Joyful Skin Clinic, recently told R29. "These two mineral ingredients sit on the surface of skin, reflecting the UV rays and preventing them from penetrating deep into the skin." Usually quite thick and white in texture and colour, they are also sometimes referred to as 'physical' sunscreens. Mineral sunscreen might not be the best option for darker skin as it can often result in a white or grey cast. It's also not good for those who work out, says Holly. "Mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin and trap heat so they cause you not to sweat naturally." That could explain why you might experience clogged pores or sore eyes when the formula runs.
Chemical sunscreen absorbs UV rays, rather than reflecting them. It tends to be a lot lighter and undetectable, making it a better alternative for people with dark skin or skin that is prone to spots and clogged pores. "It's a real personal choice," concludes Holly, who says the best SPF is the one you want to wear, though it might help to try different products to see which one works best for your skin tone, type and lifestyle.
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