In my previous posts I talked about the different types of UV protection and the various organic and inorganic filters that offer UV protection. This week covers other considerations for choosing sunscreens.
Finding the right texture for your skin type (and climate)
It’s common to be put off the idea of sunscreen based on the assumption that it’s thick and greasy. Whilst this is true for some formulations, there are many that are lightweight and very wearable – particularly organic sunscreens. Drier skins may appreciate a richer, creamier texture, and there are formulations for oily skins which are light fluid textures with a matte finish. You can also get watery gel textures that would also be great for oilier skins and /or warmer weather – this is quite common with Asian sunscreen formulations. My current sunscreen has a slightly richer feel and dewy finish which has been perfect for the colder weather we’ve had in the UK but I have been considering looking for a lighter texture (if I can find one I like!) as it's getting warmer. That said I’ve been wearing it in our mini heatwave this week and I’m actually still really enjoying it! Maybe this really is the one 😉
Choose your sunscreen according to your activity
This is probably pretty obvious but the sunscreen you wear every day on your commute to work in the city is likely to be very different from the one you take on holiday with you, or what you wear when you’re spending time out in the garden. Aside from the texture considerations, sunscreens can be formulated to be waterproof, water resistant (or neither) which make them less likely to come off. It’s worth looking out for a water-resistant sunscreen for any outdoor/sports activities or prolonged exposure as the sunscreen is more likely to stay put.
Regardless of whatever sunscreen you use you will still need to reapply it– don’t be tempted by those “once a day” claims on sunscreens! In fact, reapplication is probably one of the most important aspects of protection, even more so than the filters / level of protection stated on the label. For anyone who wears make up this isn’t very practical (and to be honest here in the UK, I’m not usually outdoors enough most days to warrant this). I have a sunscreen spray to top up for days when I’m out more than usual (powder formulations are also an option for topping up on the go), though on holiday with prolonged exposure to the sun I tend to wash my face and reapply sunscreen properly. As with most things I think a bit of common sense is required here. If you’re in a place where the UV index is high and you’re outside a lot and / or swimming, you ideally need to reapply every couple of hours. Don't let you put this off sunscreen though as applying it at least once is better than not wearing anything at all.
How much to use
The most often quoted amount is ¼ tsp (1.25 ml) for the face alone which is based on how sunscreens are tested (2.0 mg/ cm2) and is a good rule of thumb, but it obviously depends on the size of your face! Labmuffin has a video on this if you want to know more! I use this much for my face (cream / lotion) and a similar amount again for my neck and ears. It’s always best to over apply rather than under apply as most people don’t use enough to get the protection stated on the label. Bear in mind if you're using watery or mousse formats you may need more and it will be really tricky to gauge the correct amount with an aerosol spray. This is one of the reasons I avoid using these kinds of different formats as my primary method of application (though aerosols are an option topping up if you're on the go), because you can never be sure if you've applied enough. If you use a non-aerosol (trigger) spray format, spray it into your hand first so you can at least check you're using the right amount.
I prefer using fragrance / essential oil free sunscreens due to the potential for irritation which is even higher if you’re exposed to sunlight and you’re using actives in your skincare. Fragrance free options with good filters are sadly still quite hard to find but I have found a few! Ultrasun which is an accessible brand in UK / Europe seem to be updating their range of sunscreens - they have some new formulations which are free of the old filters that can cause irritation for some people, and are also fragrance free. Worth a look for but just check packaging carefully as the old formulations (which include the old filters) are still floating around. You may also want to check out the textures too as I'm aware that some are quite heavy / greasy. For many of you, fragrance in sunscreens may well not be an issue but those with sensitive / reactive skin may do better avoiding it.
It’s known that denatured alcohol (not to be confused with fatty alcohols which are very useful for dry skin) can have a drying / irritating effect on the skin when used i large quantities. Alcohol often appears in sunscreen formulations though because it helps the product dry down quickly. This is true particularly of Asian sunscreens, though you’ll see it regularly appear in most sunscreens. If there are other hydrating / moisturising ingredients in the formulation to offset the drying effect of alcohol then its presence in a sunscreen shouldn’t cause an issue for most people. But if you have a disrupted skin barrier, highly sensitive or excessively dry skin, it might cause further irritation so it’s certainly something to look out for when choosing your sunscreen. Also look at where on the ingredients list it appears - if it's towards the end of the list it's far less likely to be problematic. If you prefer an alcohol free sunscreen, just be aware that they won’t dry down as quickly and you may be left with a slight sheen, at least initially (doesn’t really bother me as my skin leans dry anyway and I always welcome a bit of a shine!).
Applying sunscreen over skincare and under make up
It’s important to let your layers of skincare be fully absorbed before applying your sunscreen as the last step (before make up). I usually wait at least 5 mins between applying the last of my skincare layer and sunscreen, then I wait another 5 mins so that the sunscreen can form and even film before applying any make up. In the winter I was using a moisturiser under my sunscreen but some skin types, and some sunscreens won’t require this. Experiment to see what works best for you.
I had been very slapdash with make-up application previously, not that I wear much most days. Up until recently I was applying tinted moisturiser with my fingers which is great if you’re in a hurry, but I hadn’t fully appreciated how I was probably disturbing the layer of sunscreen underneath. I’m not usually a fan of make-up sponges (for hygiene reasons), but I have bought a few inexpensive ones and I’m now applying tinted moisturiser more carefully over the top of my sunscreen using the sponge in a gentle rocking motion. Do bear in mind that any rubbing of make up into your skin or buffing with a brush will undoubtedly be moving your sunscreen around, resulting in uneven coverage / protection. Some sunscreens in the past have been a fail for me as they don’t wear well under make up (lots of pilling / flaking) – this is more likely to happen if you’re wearing a lot of skincare layers underneath, particularly if they contain a lot of silicones. Some products just don’t play well together. That doesn’t mean the sunscreen is no good, you might just need to try it with other skincare products that you have in your stash first before you consign it to the bin too quickly!
Other ways to protect your skin
If you’re likely to have prolonged sun exposure (especially on holiday / at the beach, as well as if you use strong actives in your skincare) in addition to sunscreen it’s also worth looking at UV protective clothing – particularly hats. I recently bought one for holidays (and hot days here in the UK). Sun hats have come a long way in looking stylish but also having a strong protective benefit.
Global Babe has a range of lovely wide brimmed UPF50 sun hats, perfect for the beach and also practical for travelling (foldable, washable). There’s also a range of protective yet stylish clothing. What’s more this independent company is run by a wonderful lady committed to keeping you safe from the sun.
For small heads like mine that can’t quite carry off a very wide brim (sadly), I recently got one of these for myself and my daughter (they do a standard adult size too, but embarrassingly I’m wearing the same size as my 7 year old!!). These are adjustable, foldable and hand washable, and I find my head doesn't get as hot compared to other hats I've tried.
Hope you’ve found this series useful so far! My last post (out next week) will reveal some of my top picks for sunscreen.