Firstly, a big congratulations to us! Australians are far more sun savvy than our northern hemisphere counterparts BUT …
As is it is the beginning of summer, let’s recap on how to save your skin from the damage and ageing that sun exposure causes.
The abbreviation ‘SPF’ stands for Sun Protection Factor. The number associated with an SPF reflects the length of time you are exposed to the sun. A higher number does not necessarily represent greater protection. SPFs work by a simple equation of the SPF number multiplied by the time your skin type will begin to damage and alter (not burn, just alter). The average skin type can be exposed to the sun without protection for 10 minutes before damage begins. This time changes according to your skin colour—paler skin can withstand fewer minutes of unprotected sun exposure before damage occurs and darker skin can be exposed for slightly more time before damage occurs. The real advantage of a higher SPF is the convenience of not having to reapply it so frequently. For the average office worker a sunscreen with SPF 15 is more than adequate to protect them during their routine workday.
The real tip for getting better protection and saving your skin from the damage that causes premature ageing is to ensure that your sunscreen contains antioxidants. Sunscreens with SPF ratings protect the skin from UVB, known as the Burning rays, whereas antioxidants will protect your skin from UVA, known as the Ageing rays. Sun exposure triggers free-radical activity within the skin, which causes and accelerates the visible signs of ageing such as pigmentation and skin-density breakdown.
Sunscreens with SPF ratings have short life spans. Once opened these product should be discarded after 12 months because the SPFs will no longer be active and so will not protect you. If the sunscreen has been in a harsh environment like a glove box you may want to err on the side of safety and replace it even sooner. An unopened product will remain active for three years. This is a good reason to be diligent when you buy your sunscreen and check that it has not been collecting dust on the retailer’s shelf for years.
Sunscreen ONLY starts working 20 minutes after it has been applied. The most common mistake that people make—and it’s a big one—is to slap on their sunscreen and run out the door. If you don’t allow your sunscreen 20 minutes to activate before exposing your skin to the sun, after 10 minutes the sun will begin to damage your skin, reducing your natural skin protection. If you remember what I said earlier, you will understand that this means that your SPF product will not protect you for as long as normal. Often people tell me that their sunscreen did not work—9.9 times out of 10 that will have been because they did not allow the product sufficient time to activate.
You have probably also have heard of products called sun reflectors and sun filters. Reflectors are lighter in texture and the most modern sun-protection technology. As the name suggests, they work by reflecting the sun’s rays away from your skin. Filters, on the other hand, absorb the sun’s rays. Filters tend to be less aggravating for sensitive skins. Most SPFs in sensitive-skin ranges utilise filters instead of reflectors. Unfortunately, filters often feel heavier and thicker on the skin.
Another misconception is that the SPFs in moisturisers don’t really work. This is totally untrue. If a company claims that its product contains an SPF, then it must protect the skin for the time promised. What does not work is layering different products containing SPFs on top of each other. Unfortunately, this will not give you greater protection. If you have applied an SPF 30 moisturiser and a SPF 15 foundation, the SPF 30 will protect your skin. The product on the skin with the highest SPF will be the protection number to use when reapplying; in this case you should reapply your moisturiser for the greatest sun protection.
• Apply your sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure to allow it time to activate.
• Throw out any sunscreens that are more than 12 months old.
• Choose a sunscreen that combines an SPF and antioxidants.