While wearing sunscreen is an essential all year round, it is now—as we emerge from our socially distant cocoons—that many of us begin to rethink what we’re using on our skin, SPF included. When it comes to sun protection, there is often confusion over things like the best formula to use, or how much you should be applying. British Vogue asked dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting for the five key dos and don’ts of SPF—so you can absorb that much-needed vitamin D with confidence.
Do: Choose a broad spectrum SPF
To protect skin against both UVA and UVB light – both of which cause damage to the skin—broad spectrum SPF is a must. “What’s really crucial when we’re talking about a good skincare routine is blocking the daily UVA rays which are present all year round,” explains Dr Bunting. “They can come through glass and actually form the bulk (95 per cent) of UV light that reaches the earth.”
While UVB is the UV light responsible for the (more visible) burn—and tends to be the one we focus on more because the damage is seen quickly—it’s really important to ensure your SPF protects against UVA too. UVA damage leads to fine lines, pigmentation, uneven skin texture, big pores, coarsening of the skin and loss of collagen—all the bad stuff. “Beach holidays aren’t so much the problem. It’s the everyday, half an hour out walking at lunchtime that builds up over the years.” A broad spectrum SPF offers a significant level of protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and should be worn by all skin tones.
Do: Pick the right type of sunscreen for your skin
Sunscreens fall into two categories: chemical, which are formulas that contain ingredients like octinoxate and oxybenzone that act as sun filters, absorbing UV light to prevent skin damage; and physical, which are mineral-based and commonly contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to physically protect the skin and reflect light away, as well as absorbing it.
The best protection you can get? Dr Bunting says a hybrid of both physical and chemical gives “very good broad spectrum cover from both UVA and UVB rays”, but unfortunately some skin types react to chemical formulations, which are often the preferred formulas because they don’t impart the dreaded white cast over skin. (It’s worth noting that physical ones now do this less, as there has been huge innovation in this sector.)
“If you are sensitive or prone to redness, have rosacea or any kind of facial eczema, generally a mineral sunscreen (which is in my Gossamer sunscreen), will offer a more gentle experience,” she says. “That’s also the type we tend to use after procedures like lasers or peels, or whenever the skin barrier is affected. You can get good UVA and UVB protection from both.”
Don’t: Scrimp on how much you apply
“We’ve become so pedantic about spelling out how high the SPF is, but it’s rare that brands express how important it is to apply the formula generously to the skin,” says Dr Bunting. “The word ‘liberally’ means 10 different things to 10 different people.” To ensure you’re putting enough of the good stuff on your skin, she advises a quarter of a teaspoon (or 1.25ml) as a good measure for both face and neck. You “need to paint your face like you’re painting a wall”, she says, emphasising the importance of an even coating to get the protection you need.
A foolproof method is her “13 dot technique” which is as simple as it sounds, and involves applying 13 different dots of SPF around the face and rubbing them in together: “It allows you to divide the SPF evenly without missing bits. If you start these simple rituals now, you will age beautifully into your 40s and beyond. I am evangelical about it.”
Don’t: Rely on your make-up for SPF protection
It is a very common misconception that the SPF in your daily foundation will suffice. Dr Bunting says it is likely it won’t. “You need to use a dedicated sunscreen. SPF15 in your tinted moisturiser probably isn’t going to cut it, because that really only means it will give you a little bit of UVB protection.” Add to that the fact it is unlikely you’ll apply enough tinted moisturiser to every area of your skin to offer protection, and the importance of a dedicated SPF becomes even more clear.
Don’t: Wear a low SPF
The age old question: SPF 30 or 50? “I am profoundly for SPF50. UV light is a known entity that not only causes premature ageing but also cancer, and they are both proven without a shadow of a doubt. Both of those things are highly preventable,” Dr Bunting says. Not only does SPF50 offer 95 per cent protection from UV as opposed to SPF30’s 93 per cent (a two per cent difference which, over time, stacks up), Dr Bunting also points out that we are not perfect—meaning many of us under-apply our SPF. “I’d much rather people were under-applying an SPF50 than a 30.”