Your skin & The Sun: Everything you need to know

Misia at Soothe

*Updated May 2024

This deep-dive blog post covers everything related to the sun and your skin, from the benefits of the sun’s rays on our skin to how to choose and apply sunscreen effectively.

Most of us love the sun – it makes us feel good and lifts our mood. I know, like me, you want to feel positive about spending time in the sun and confident that you are being safe.

In this blog post:

  • How do the sun’s rays affect us?
  • Understanding UVA and UVB
  • What is SPF?
  • How to choose the best sunscreen for your skin
  • My sunscreen product recommendations
  • Tips for using sunscreen effectively and safely
  • Cancer Research recommendations

How do the sun’s rays affect us?

The good news

You’re probably so used to hearing warnings about ageing UVA rays and harmful UVB rays that it may seem strange to read what I am about to write – that the sun isn’t all bad!

The ‘happy hormone’, serotonin increases when we get more sun, so it seems a sunny day really can make you happier!

Aside from that, the sun provides us with vitamin D which helps build healthy bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. Vitamin D is also needed to enhance the intestinal absorption of essential minerals from our diet.

Current guidelines advise us not to bare our skin for more than 15-20 minutes a day without sunscreen. During this time our skin absorbs sufficient amounts of vitamin D to last us all winter. Any more than this appears to affect its absorption.

According to the NHS website, “Government advice is that everyone should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter. From about late March/early April to the end of September, the majority of people should be able to make all the vitamin D they need from sunlight on their skin – adults need 10 micrograms of vitamin D a day.”

Natural food sources of vitamin D include oily fish, egg yolks and red meat.

Foods rich in vitamin D

The other side of the story

Despite its positive effects, I’m sorry to say that I’ve seen more clients with skin cancer over the past few years than ever before.

Often, these are people who enjoyed the sun in their younger years (when active sunbathing and getting as brown as you could get was the fashion). Twenty years on they are seeing the damage it’s done to their skin, and ultimately their wellbeing and appearance.

I’ve seen individuals who have lost the tips of their ears, nose and chunks of their face and body to skin cancer. Protecting your skin now is an investment in your future. Ask yourself, is your pretty tan worth it?

The science geeks at Alumier say, “A tan results from injury to the skin’s DNA. The skin darkens into a tan as a flawed attempt to protect itself and prevent further DNA damage. However, these flaws or mutations can lead to skin cancer over time. Remember: There is no such thing as a safe tan because a tan equals sun damage.”

Understanding UVA and UVB

Sunlight is electromagnetic radiation. It’s divided into three wavelengths – UVA, UVB and UVC.

UVC is filtered out by the ozone, oxygen and dust from the atmosphere but UVA and UVB reach us on earth. This radiation can cause burns, so exposing your skin to it can be likened to roasting a joint!

UVA is the strongest form; these rays penetrate the skin causing premature ageing and changes in the dermis cells, that can develop into cancer. More than 50% of UVA rays can penetrate glass, a fact worth bearing in mind if you are exposed to sunlight whilst indoors!

The exposure to UV triggers an attack on your skin’s collagen and elastin – the building blocks of youthful, healthy skin. The UV light also attacks our skin’s vitamin C, which is needed for collagen regeneration. As lovely as the sun feels on our skin, it causes pigmentation (age spots), skin thickening, vascular damage (broken capillaries), crêping (destruction of collagen and elastin fibres), and can cause skin and eye cancers.

UVB reaches only the top layer of skin – the epidermis; it causes reddening which is a sign of the skin cells burning.
You don’t have to feel sore and have blisters to be burnt. As soon as you’re ‘pinking’ you’re burning, so cover up! Pinking indicates changes in the status of the cells that could lead to mutations, particularly if repeated burning takes place.

What is SPF?

All sunscreens carry a Sun Protection Factor, usually abbreviated to SPF. This is followed by a number: 15, 25, 50, etc.
The higher the SPF value, the longer we will be able to stay in the sun without visibly burning. It reflects the ability of the product to screen out the sun’s harmful rays.

If someone would normally start to burn after 5 minutes in the sun when unprotected, by using an SPF15 sun cream they should be able to stay out for 75 minutes (5 minutes x SPF15) without visibly burning.

SPF15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays, SPF30 blocks 97% and SPF50 blocks 98%.

Is there any point using SPF when the sun isn’t out?

The sun rises every day and that means that you are being exposed to UV light every day, even when it’s cloudy. You should, therefore, use UV protection every day.

I personally wear an SPF on top of my daily moisturiser. You can get some really effective light-textured ones and ones with a tint, such as the Heliocare 360 Color Gel protection, that can replace foundation over the summer.

View the full Heliocare range

After a day outdoors, try our wonderful Estime & Sens After Sun Oil.

This after-sun face and body oil rich in carrot and organic calendula flower has many benefits:

  • Hydrates
  • Nourishes
  • Prepares skin for sun (this is not an SPF)
  • Soothes sunburn
  • Prolongs tan

 

Tips for using sunscreen effectively and safely

How much sunscreen should I use?

For an adult face & front of neck: a generous quarter of a teaspoon. This can also be thought of as an index finger length of sunscreen, as squirted from your fingertip to where your finger base meets the palm of your hand.

For an adult body excluding the neck and face: between 5 and 6 full teaspoons. Using the measure of one finger length = a quarter teaspoon may help you to gauge this.

How I use SPF and protect myself in the sun:

  • I always use a broad-spectrum SPF, which means it guards against the ageing UVA rays and the burning effects of UVB rays. Check the packaging to ensure your chosen product is broad spectrum.
  • I apply it on top of my regular moisturiser in the morning. This works because I use a physical sunscreen (sometimes known as a mineral sunscreen).
  • I never rely on an SPF within my moisturiser or foundation, since often these are not broad spectrum and only protect against the UVB rays.
  • I always use a specialist SPF which is lighter in texture and sometimes contains a tint. I love this because I don’t need to wear foundation on top of it. Make it at least SPF30 and preferably SPF50. My favourite is Alumier’s Sheer Hydration.
  • I never forget to use it on my ears, tip of my nose and corner of my eyes. TIP: Don’t forget areas such as your hands and neck!
  • I apply 20 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours or more often if I go swimming or sweat more than usual.
  • I wear sunglasses with a UV rating to protect my eyes from UV damage, and a hat to protect my scalp.
  • When the weather is good, I always go out prepared for sitting in the sun – with an SPF, a hat and something to cover my shoulders.
  • I keep myself hydrated by drinking water regularly.
  • To help soothe my skin after sun exposure, I use an aftersun; this infuses my skin with a little moisture to stop it from drying and also contains cooling ingredients. Remember, after sun products do not reverse any damage caused by burning nor will they reduce any chance of skin cancers.

Cancer Research UK recommends the following:

  • Spending time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm in the UK.
  • Covering up with clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and wraparound sunglasses.
  • And using a sunscreen with at least SPF15 and 4 or 5 stars.
  • Use it generously, reapply regularly and use in combination with shade and clothing.

Final thoughts

There is no doubt that a bit of sun boosts our mood and feels good. The important thing is to know how to stay safe and to put these small actions into place to protect yourself and your family.

Visit us in the spa where you can try out our range of clean, high quality sunscreens and benefit from our expert knowledge to help you make the right choice for your skin and your family this summer.