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Sunscreen: More Than Just a Summertime Thing

This week, Hugh Jackman took to social media to implore people to wear sunscreen after having two biopsies on his nose.

Given what we know about the dangers of UV, it seems nuts that 77% of people in the UK, over the age of 18, don’t wear sunscreen to protect themselves from the UK sun, only choosing to slip, slap, slop when they venture overseas.

But how important is sunscreen really? How does it even work? Is SPF in makeup enough? And does everyone really need sunscreen everyday?

Sunscreen is REALLY important.

According to Cancer Research UK, there are around 16,200 new cases of melanoma skin cancer in the UK each year, making it the fifth most common cancer. In addition to melanoma, there are also around 100,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer each year in the UK, such as basal and squamous cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

According to studies, regular sunscreen use can reduce the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by up to 50%. But it’s not only protection against skin cancer that means wearing SPF is a no-brainer, there are other benefits, including:

  • Preventing sunburn: Sunburn can be painful and damaging to the skin. Sunscreen helps prevent sunburn by blocking UV rays from penetrating the skin.
  • Reducing premature ageing: Exposure to UV radiation can cause premature ageing of the skin, leading to wrinkles, age spots, and other signs of aging. Sunscreen helps protect the skin from UV damage and can help prevent premature ageing.
  • Protecting against hyperpigmentation: Sunscreen can also help protect against hyperpigmentation - the darkening of the skin due to UV radiation exposure. Hyperpigmentation can be really difficult to treat, so, as the sayign goes, "prevention is better than cure".

There are many benefits to a daily smothering of sunscreen - not just protection against skin cancer.

So what is SPF and how does it work?

SPF stands for "Sun Protection Factor." It's a measure of how well a sunscreen product can protect the skin from the harmful effects of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Specifically, it measures the degree of protection against UVB radiation, which is the type of radiation that causes sunburn and contributes to skin cancer. As opposed to UVA, which contributed to skin ageing.

The SPF number on a sunscreen product represents the level of protection it offers. An SPF 30 sunscreen provides 30 times the protection against UVB radiation compared to not using any sunscreen. So, if it would take 10 minutes for your skin to burn without any protection, applying an SPF 30 sunscreen would extend that time to 300 minutes.

By using sunscreen with a high SPF, you can reduce your risk of sunburn and skin damage, which can ultimately reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.

However, it's important to remember that sunscreen is only one part of a comprehensive sun protection strategy. Shade seeking, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding sun exposure during peak UV hours are sensible steps to being sun safe.

What is the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens?

Firstly, both types of sunscreens are effective at protecting the skin from the sun's harmful UV rays. Whether you choosing a chemical or physical sunscreen often comes down to personal preference and your skin type.

Additionally, sunscreens are safe. Some people have raised concerns about the potential health risks associated with the chemicals in some sunscreens, particularly oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. However, these concerns have largely been debunked by scientific research.

SPF works by absorbing or reflecting UVB radiation.

Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation before it can penetrate the skin. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens, such as avobenzone and oxybenzone, convert UV rays into heat, which is then released from the skin. Chemical sunscreens tend to be lightweight and easier to apply, but they may be more likely to cause skin irritation on sensitive skin.

Physical sunscreens, on the other hand, work by reflecting UV radiation away from the skin. They contain mineral-based ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that form a barrier on the skin's surface, effectively blocking out UV rays. Physical sunscreens are less likely to cause skin irritation, making them a good option for those with sensitive skin, and they offer protection against both UVA and UVB radiation. However, they can be thicker and harder to apply, often leaving a white cast on the skin.

But there’s SPF in my makeup, so I don’t need SPF, right?

Many makeup products, such as foundations and BB creams, contain SPF, but don't be fooled into thinking they are a substitute to an actual sunscreen containing a high SPF...they aren't. Here's why:

  1. Insufficient SPF: Many makeup products that contain SPF may only have an SPF of 15 or lower. This is nowhere near high enough. An SPF 30 or higher is recommended for daily use.
  2. Insufficient coverage: When applying sunscreen you should apply two finger lengths of cream to the face, ears and neck. There’s no way you’d apply enough makeup to get adequate coverage. Additionally, makeup may not cover all areas of the skin that need protection, such as the ears, neck, and back of the hands.
  3. Reapplication is difficult: Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours or after swimming or sweating to maintain its effectiveness. It’s unlikely that makeup will be reapplied so frequently without looking like it’s been applied with a trowel.
  4. Inconsistent use: People may not use makeup every day, or they may not use the same makeup every day, which can lead to inconsistent sun protection.

It's important to use a dedicated sunscreen with a high SPF (30+) and to reapply it regularly. Your makeup is not enough.

It’s OK, I don’t burn, so I don’t need sunscreen.


All skin is exposed to UV radiation from the sun and UV radiation is a major cause of skin cancer. UV radiation can damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to genetic mutations that can result in cancer developing.

The risk of skin cancer increases with prolonged exposure to UV radiation, particularly during childhood and adolescence. People with fair skin, light-coloured hair, and blue or green eyes are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, as are those with a history of sunburns or a family history of skin cancer. But that does mean that those with brown or black skin can skip sunscreen. If your skin is exposed to UV, you need to be wearing SPF daily.

If you're wanting to undo the damage of years spent sunbathing, or you have some moles you'd like checked out, head to to search for a professional who can help you with all things skin.

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