SPF: How to Protect your Skin from the Sun
Written by Nicola Moulton
11 Jul 2023
Dermatologists and skincare experts advocate daily, year-round use of SPF - whatever the weather. So just why is sun protection so important - and what should you be using?
Why is sunlight dangerous?
Sunlight consists of different kinds of radiation, including visible light that we can see, infrared that gives it the heat we all love, and ultraviolet (UV). It’s the ultraviolet rays that help us produce Vitamin D, but it can also have negative effects too, beyond just sunburn.
UV is made up of two different kinds of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB. It has a shorter wavelength than visible light. The shorter wavelength means not only can we not see it, but also that it can penetrate the surface of the skin.
UVA light can penetrate the skin as far as the dermis layer which provides structure and elasticity for the skin
UVA light can penetrate the skin as far as the dermis layer (above the hypodermis and below the epidermis) which contain collagen and the elastin fibres which provide structure and elasticity for the skin. If this layer is damaged, it can worsen the ageing process and lead to wrinkly or sagging skin. And of course: while UVB doesn't penetrate as far, only reaching the top layer epidermis level of the skin, it can still cause damage - which is what we call sunburn.
How does sunscreen prevent sun damage?
The best thing you can do to avoid damage to your skin is to avoid direct sunlight where possible. Whether that's remaining in the shade, wearing long clothes or a large-brimmed hat. However, if that's not possible, it's essential to wear sunscreen, and to regularly reapply (especially if you are swimming or sweating a lot!).
Sunscreen forms a protective barrier over the skin, reflecting and scattering sunlight to prevent penetration
Sunscreen works by forming a protective barrier over the skin that is capable of reflecting and scattering the sunlight as it hits the skin, preventing it from penetrating the top level of skin.
There are two main types of sun filter: chemical filters, where ingredients in the sun creams absorb the UV light, convert it, and release it from your skin, and physical filters, which use mostly mineral sun blocks, using ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide, to provide a physical block against the skin’s rays. (Some products also incorporate a mix of both kinds of filters, too).
Experts say there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ filter to use. Some people find physical sunscreens to be on the thicker side, or notice a whiteish hue to their skin after applying them - but modern formulations are much more advanced than they used to be. Others like the fact that physical sun blocks can be used on sensitive skins, and the fact that they offer the most broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Ultimately, as most dermatologists agree, the best sunscreen to use is the one that you’ll be happy to use every day.
Is my skin sun damaged?
If you’ve ever had a UV lamp analysis, you’ll know that it’s a humbling experience whereby a dermatologist shines a black light onto your face, illuminating every bit of damage you’ve accumulated over the years (breakouts, itchy rashes, scars and mostly sun damage). What’s good about it? You can see the damage and start to treat it before it appears on the surface of your skin.
If you haven't had a UV lamp analysis, there are other ways you can tell if your skin is sun damaged, including:
Prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause the skin to lose moisture which can feel dry or rough. As mentioned above, UVA can penetrate through to the deeper layers of skin and affect the elastin fibres and collagen in the dermis layer. Damaged elastin or reduced levels of collagen can leave the skin saggy and uneven.
Hyperpigmentation occurs when melanin, the natural pigment that gives skin and hair its colour, is produced in elevated levels. Exposure to sunlight encourages the production of melanin to try to block the UV rays and protect itself. Hyperpigmentation can cause dark spots on areas of the skin more likely to be exposed to sunlight, particularly the face and hands.
Whether it's falling asleep on a sun lounger or using too low an SPF sunscreen, most people are familiar with the burning, itchy and inflamed sensation sunburn can cause, especially on areas of the skin that aren't usually exposed to the sun. While it can be an irritating pain for the few weeks it lasts, it's important to avoid in any way you can as it's still a serious form of sun damage.
Retinol and Vitamin C can work exceptionally well together within your skincare routine.
How to help sun damaged skin
Doubling-up on the sun-damage-fighting, regenerating and antioxidant ingredients in your skincare routine is the right thing to focus on. We asked Beauty Pie Founder Marcia Kilgore what she suggests everybody incorporates into a late/post summer skincare routine to help prevent sun damaged skin
Key Ingredients to help avoid sun damage
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps boost skin regeneration, luminosity and radiance, plus helps equalise uneven skin tone and improve skin texture. It’s also known as a collagen booster which can help combat damage from dermis-penetrating UVA damage.
Glycolic Acid is the most powerful resurfacing acid. It stimulates your skin’s renewal process, minimises breakouts, helps clear pores and improves visible hyperpigmentation, scarring and fine lines.
Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A that can help to unclog your pores, boost collagen production (to help reduce fine lines), reduce collagen breakdown, speed up sluggish cell turnover, even out skin discolouration, normalise your skin’s barrier function and smooth your complexion.
While it's important to use an SPF as part of your daily routine regardless, it's especially important when using a retinoid like retinol.
Marcia's Sun-Damage-Softening Routine
When it comes to protecting your skin, an ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure. By following these steps regularly you can help to prevent sun damage, and help your skin repair itself.
Use a face mask once a week to re-energise, brighten and clarify your skin. Our Swiss Oxygen mask contains antioxidants which helps to neutralise the free radicals created by exposure to UV.
Apply a toner containing glycolic acid all over your face and neck. Not only will this help to increase permeation of the other active ingredients in your routine, but the exfoliating effect will slough off dead cells and stimulate the growth of new cells.
Including both a Vitamin C product and a Retinol product (we like our Super Retinol High-Dose Booser Treatment) in your daily routine to balance your skin tone, encourage collagen production and help your skin's barrier function.
And most importantly, every day, use SPF!