I’ve been a beauty editor for YEARS and whenever someone asks me for my best ever beauty secret I tell them WEAR SUNSCREEN. Preventing sun damage is one of the best anti-aging measures you can take to keep your skin looking youthful, clear and bouncy. But sunscreens can be complicated, so here’s what you need to know to demystify your latest beauty must-have.
What does SPF stand for?
We’ve all seen the labels with SPF15 or SPF 50, but many people have no idea what it stands for. SPF means sun protection factor. The higher the SPF, the greater protection is offered by that sunscreen. But take note: there are lots of factors that need to be taken into consideration when it comes to the length of time it takes someone to burn: the UV levels, the person’s skin type and how well the sunscreen is applied. One of the most common reasons people burn? They haven’t applied enough to reach the SPF factor on the label.
What does broad spectrum mean? Do I need it?
Yes you definitely need broad spectrum! There are two types of rays emitted by the sun: UVA and UVB rays. When your skin burns, that’s the UVB rays being their nasty selves. But the other rays, known as UVA rays are the ones responsible to visible aging signs (think pigmentation, skin thickening, fine lines, wrinkles and more. No thank you).
This is where broad-spectrum comes in, as formulas that meet this criteria protect from BOTH types of rays. As a skincare junkie, I am super passionate about keeping those UVA rays at bay just as much as the burning kind, so you will never catch me without a broad spectrum formula.
What is the difference between chemical and physical sunscreen?
I know I always used to be confused by chemical and physical sunscreen and a quick poll of my girlfriends showed I am not alone. There are big differences in how sunscreens work, by either reflecting or absorbing the sun’s rays. It’s all in the name (kind of). Physical formulas create a physical barrier between you and the sun’s harsh rays. They don’t absorb into the skin; rather, they remain on the surface. These are naturally broad spectrum formulas. If you do choose the physical kind, make sure you cleanse thoroughly before going to sleep, to get all the residue off.
Chemical formulas actually get absorbed by the skin and work in conjunction with it to absorb the sun’s rays before they get down to where they can do damage. These sunscreens usually aren’t suitable for those with sensitive skin, due to the chemical compounds present
What does it mean when a sunscreen is “reef-friendly or reef safe”?
These formulas of sun protection are less likely to hurt the environment. There have been some studies recently suggesting that certain ingredients in traditional sun protection can be bad for marine wildlife so some brands are leaning towards creating formulas without these nasties. The ingredients thought to be harmful are oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octinoxate.
Is sunscreen water resistant?
The Australian government’s Therapeutic Goods Association requires that sunscreens remain fully present on skin after four hours of water exposure. Does this mean you don’t have to reapply before four hours? In short, no. It might be resistant but that doesn’t mean waterproof. It’s always a good idea to top up the sunscreen if you’ve sweated or swam every two hours at least.
Lips, hands and feet need SPF, too
Think your lips don’t need sun protection? Think again, friend. Same goes for hands and feet. If you’ve ever experienced chapped lips in summer, this could be a sign they’re not being protected enough. Then with the hands and feet, your skin on those areas can get thicker and age faster without proper sunscreen protection. For your lips, invest in a lip balm with SPF that you have to apply as much as you see fit; if you’re eating and drinking probably twice an hour. For the hands, a hand cream with SPF is great, or else just add them and your tootsies to your sun cream routine if you’re spending a day in the sun. And if you’ve ever felt the tops of your feet get burned in summer, you’ll thank me because ouch.
What is the shelf life of a sunscreen?
YES sunscreens expire and NO you shouldn’t wear them after their use-by date. In Australia, the TGA requires all bottles to be stamped with an expiry date, as well as storage instructions for what temperature it needs to be stored at to avoid it going off. Follow the instructions and all will be well. And don’t leave your sunscreen in the car on a hot day because that’s a surefire trip to rancid town.
How much sunscreen do I need?
Be generous with your sunscreen, because more is more. Most people don’t apply nearly enough to get the full SPF protection on the label. As a general rule, look at using a ½ teaspoon at least for your face and neck. This can feel like a lot if you’ve been underplaying it so you can apply half and then wait a bit and apply the rest until you’re used to it.
Am I covered if my moisturiser has SPF in it?
No. You might have a small, tiny amount of protection but to accurately get the SPF level on the bottle you’d need to apply more than a tablespoon of the product. When it’s foundation, or moisturiser this is near impossible. So ALWAYS wear sunscreen as well as your usual moisturiser or foundation. OR look for a sunscreen that also moisturises (rather than a moisturiser with sunscreen in it).
When should I wear sunscreen?
Every darn day. I always say if I could have given myself one bit of beauty advice back in my teens it would have been to wear sunscreen every single day. The pigmentation I am currently battling in my 30s is because of invisible damage that was done when I was younger. Even if you think you won’t be leaving the house or office all day, it’s the incidental damage from being in the car or walking to public transport or sitting near a window that will get you; even being on planes! Even if you can’t feel the sun’s heat on your face, doesn’t mean the rays aren’t doing damage to your skin every day, and that stuff builds up! Sun protection is your best anti-aging product on the market and will save you loads of money on potions and skincare in the future.
OUR SUNSCREEN FAVOURITES
Ultra Violette range
Pretty much everything from this brand is the business as sunscreen is their only game and they have the range to suit whatever need you have, including their hero product Queen Screen, a serum style screen, and their newly released Extreme Screen, a nourishing product for your body and hands.
Mecca Cosmetica To Save Face SPF 50+ Superscreen
This is the holy grail of sunscreens, in terms of its skincare benefits. I can use this baby as a sunscreen and it soft enough on my skin to also replace my daily moisturiser.
Cancer Council Day Wear Moisturising Sunscreen range
This range is a cheaper option that’s said to be a dupe for the Mecca range. I don’t find it quite as good in terms of the moisturising factor but if you’re looking to save dollars, it’s a really good option.
About the author
Elizabeth Best is a journalist, beauty expert, foodie and travel lover with a mild obsession for all things shimmery. She likes long walks down the makeup aisle and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @thebeautypalate.