It’s a good time to stock up on sunscreen, but working out which bottle offers the best protection isn’t easy. This guest post from Nina Goad explains all, from SPF to star ratings.
It’s getting to that time of year, a stuttering start maybe, but the first sunny days of the year are definitely here. As things begin to heat up, and spring turns to summer, more of us will be dropping a bottle of sunscreen into the shopping basket.
The question is though, what sort of sunscreen do you want to go for, and what do the labels mean? Surveys have shown that most of us only have a vague idea of what the numbers on sunscreen bottles actually mean, and what level of protection we should be aiming for.
The sun’s rays from UVA to UVC
When talking about sun protection, it is useful to understand a little about what we are protecting ourselves against – UV radiation. UV radiation from the sun is transmitted in three wavelengths – UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC does not penetrate the earth’s atmosphere, so we only really need to protect against UVA and UVB.
UVA is associated with skin ageing. UVA leads to wrinkles and sun-induced skin ageing, as well as skin cancer. UVA can pass through window glass and penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB.
UVB is the form of UV irradiation most responsible for sunburn and has strong links to melanoma and basal cell carcinoma risk, two types of skin cancer.
If you find it hard to remember which is which, some experts recommend remembering it as ’UVAgeing‘ and ’UVBurning’.
What does SPF mean?
SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is the level of protection that the sunscreen offers against UVB rays, so it can be understood as the sunburn protection factor.
The British Association of Dermatologists recommends a minimum of SPF of 30. Used in conjunction with other sun protection methods, such as finding shade and wearing protective clothing, including a hat, this will give you a good level of protection from the sun.
What about UVA?
In addition to the SPF number, you may well have noticed that most bottles have a UVA logo, the letters ‘UVA’ printed in a circle, or a number of stars.
The UVA logo indicates that the sunscreen meets the EU recommended level of UVA protection. If your sunscreen uses the star rating system for UVA labelling, we would recommend a minimum of four or five stars.
It’s very important to realise that under both these systems the ratings are always in relation to the SPF – so if your SPF is low, your UVA rating will be low too.
I hope this has helped clear up some of the more confusing aspects of sunscreen labelling, so that you’ll know what to look out for next time you’re shopping. However, I think you’ll agree that the system is unnecessarily complex.
This is a guest post by Nina Goad, Head of Communications for the British Association of Dermatologists. All opinions are Nina’s own, not necessarily those of Which?