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SPF, Sunbeds and Skin Cancer. Let's have a chat.

What is SPF?

Sun Protection Factor has gained a lot of attention in recent years, due to its ability to ward off the harmful effects of UV light, and our greater awareness of what is increasing the prevalence of different types of cancer, such as skin cancers. People often ask in the Pharmacy about which sunscreen to use, and then of that brand, which SPF to use. I am often asked what the difference between all the sunscreens that are available is, which is why I want to touch on the subject.

SPF measures how well a sunscreen will protect your skin against UVB rays (which cause sunburn), but does not measure how protected you will be against UVA rays. SPF basically means that, for example, with SPF 15, if your skin would normally take 10 minutes in 30 degree heat to burn, then SPF15 (in theory, at least) allows you to stay in the sun for 15 times as long as that (150 minutes). However, regardless of the factor you use, you will have to reapply multiple times throughout the day, every 2 hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating - and be extra careful when buying water-resistant ones as sometimes we think we are invincible when we wear those, and they do more harm than good because we think we do not need to reapply them. Sunscreens only work when you use them correctly, which includes regular application, and using plenty of them (>2 tablespoons for whole body). Also, make sure to apply 15-30 minutes before going outside, unless they are a sun block which is zinc oxide or titanium dioxide based - which acts as a physical barrier - most sunscreens, however, are based on a chemical mechanism which needs time before sun exposure.

SPF30 or 50? Is there much difference?

An SPF 30 allows about 3 percent of UVB rays to hit your skin. An SPF of 50 allows about 2 percent of those rays through. That may seem like a small difference, until you realise that the SPF 30 is allowing 50 percent more UV radiation onto your skin. 50% more UV radiation = 50% more damage.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for any extended outdoor activity.

DO NOT RELY ON SPF ALONE! Try to avoid direct sunlight, and cover up too!

It is important not to rely on high-SPF sunscreens alone. No single method of sun defence can protect you completely. Sunscreen is just one vital part of a strategy that should also include seeking shade and covering up with clothing, including UV-blocking sunglasses, using an umbrella in the sun, and wide-brimmed hats.

UV light is one of the major damaging factors to the skin, and which is a key contributor to the process of ageing - protect your skin now and you’ll thank yourself in the future when you are retired and still have beautiful skin!

Why you need SPF in your skincare routine, all year round

I have started to become more aware of what skincare products I am using and my number one priority for my daytime moisturiser is that it contains both full UVA and UVB protection. I . am currently using Bioderma Photoderm AR underneath my makeup, or on its own, to give full protection to my face during the day. With my ginger hair and pale skin, which freckles, my skin needs all the protection it can get, but even darker skin tones are susceptible to the damaging effects of UV light from the sun.

I had always thought lovingly of freckles, and still do, but it is important to be aware that they, and other marks like age spots, are present because of UV contact with our skin, and that we should always protect from UV damage, even on the cloudiest of days. The difference between UVA and UVB is that UVA is long-wave radiation, and UVB is shorter-wave radiation. UVB is the one that causes sunburn, and for a long time, was the main focus in terms of sunscreens, as the damage caused by UVB is visible, and because UVB rays also contribute to the development of skin cancer. However, when you are buying sunscreens from now on, if you do not already look for a 5-star UVA and UVB rating, I want you to do this. It will usually say 'broad spectrum protection' or words to that effect, if it has UVA and UVB protection. UVA can even pass through windows e.g. reach your skin while you are driving or while at your desk. This is why it is so important to be protected always, from the harmful effects of the sun, even when you are as far as possible from a beach, at your desk! (I know right, all the bad effects of the sun without the fun of a beach - but better to be aware of it, than to be ignorant of its effects). UVA rays can cause serious damage as well as contribute to the process of ageing.

While this post is not sponsored, some sunscreens which do have this full UV spectrum protection, which I have used, include the following. If you have used or heard of some other great sunscreens with full UV protection please include them in the comments below!

********The Soltan sun cream range from Boots: *********

**** The La Roche Posay sun care range, which is a great option for those with sensitive, atopic skin, which usually reacts to sun creams and lotions: *****

Skin/Eye Reactions to sunscreens

My own skin has previously reacted to some other brands of sunscreen, whereas the ones mentioned above work really well for me and have never caused any reaction. However, I only use La Roche Posay or Bioderma face sun screens on my face as other sunscreens sting my eyes. The chemical to avoid is octyl methoxycinnamate. Look for sunscreens made with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide (sun-blocks), as they adhere better to the skin than other sunscreens and won't run as easily, and will sting less if they do.

Irish sun is just as harmful as the rays you get abroad!

We all know it is the same sun here in Ireland as when you are on holidays, and yet we lose the run of ourselves at the sight of sun in Ireland! We strip off and forget about sunscreen, in the hopes of going back to work on Monday with a sun-kissed glow. In Ireland, we do not get hot weather very often, so when we do get it, we either think it is not as hot as when we go on holidays to hot countries, so therefore it will not damage our skin, or we think we would like to get a tan seeing as the sun being out occurs so rarely. Even if we do not get sunburnt, the powerful UVA rays can lead to skin cancer, a condition which can become very invasive and result in very serious illness. So go out and enjoy the good weather while it lasts, but slap on some sunscreen at regular intervals, and try to avoid direct sunlight at peak hours between 11am and 3 pm.

How you are applying your sunscreen all wrong

Most people do not apply enough sunscreen to give them the protection against UV rays stated on the bottle. For example, if you only put on half the recommended amount, then you will get far less protection than if you had applied the proper amount. The recommended amount for an adult body is the same as a shot-glass full/two tablespoons of sunscreen. (See American Academy of Dermatology's advice) - but to be honest I personally use more than that! Also: reapply, reapply, reapply - as I have mentioned - every two hours! Even if you are using SPF50!

What causes skin cancer? Can you only get it if you have a positive family history?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Ireland.

It is not just people with a family history of skin cancer that can develop skin cancer either, which is another myth that people use to justify not wearing sunscreen, or that if you have naturally darker pigmentation to your skin, you are not immune to the harmful effects of the sun. you can also get UV damage to your skin on cloudy days, and through windows, which allows UVA through, even though it blocks UVB.

Types of skin cancer

1. Melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer

(a) Non - melanoma - of which there are two main types - basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma.

(b) Melanoma - is a more serious skin cancer , which usually stems from a pre-existing mole, which is why we should monitor any existing moles for changes in colour, texture or size.

Thankfully, most skin cancers are not life-threatening. Even the most dangerous form, Malignant Melanoma, is curable if caught in the early stages. Every organ and tissue in the body is made up of tiny little building blocks called cells, and normal cells grow as much as they are needed to grow and then they stop growing. In cancer, these cells continue to grow, even though there is no need. If this growth of, for example, skin cells, remains localised to the area, there is less risk, and usually it can be cured, however the danger is when it spreads to other parts of the body, which is why being able to prevent and detect skin cancer early is so important.  

Sunbeds: Won't make you more attractive looking in the long-run, and increases risk of skin cancer massively.

According to,

Even one sunbed session can increase your risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer by 67% and basal cell skin cancer by 29%. 

Even more importantly is the increased risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

If you have ever used a sunbed your risk of melanoma increases by 20%.

Using it before the age of 35 increases your risk by almost 60%

If you have used sunbeds/currently are using them, please stop. If you have never used one, please never do! Some people say oh I have already used them, the damage is done. This is a myth! While you . may have caused damage, further use increases that damage, so your best bet is . to stop using them. Do not use them to try clear acne, go to your doctor instead, who will offer safer solutions.

Sunbed tanning is not safer than just going out in the sun with no protection. The level of UV exposure from sunbeds can be up to 15 times higher than the midday Mediterranean sun. Please please be wise and stay away from them.

Sunbeds cause skin to wrinkle, sag and generally lose its elasticity - not quite the look we're going for here, and also these skin changes are mostly not reversible, except by surgery. So you have two options here - BE HAPPY IN YOUR OWN BEAUTIFUL SKIN! Or bronze your skin with some fake tan temporarily. Just stay away from the sunbeds, and do not do a Ross on it 😉

Ross from friends fake tan mishap meme

That's all for now guys, but I have no doubt that I will touch on this important subject again in the future. Please feel free to share any wisdom, thoughts, or questions, in the comments . below, or drop me a message/email.

With love,

Lauren x

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