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The Best SPFs for Every Skin Type

Feature: Long Read
Words By Olivia de Courcy

The feeling of sun on your skin can do wonders for your mood, so it’s no surprise we spend the majority of the year waiting for the sun to come out. As we all know though, exposure to the sun's rays can cause long-term damage – and not only skin cancer, but also signs of ageing including pigmentation and fine lines. As such, wearing suncare with a high SPF is essential all year round (yep, even when it's cloudy). Swot up on your suncreen knowledge for every day, not just a holiday.

What Is SPF?

SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, measures how effective a sunscreen is at protecting your skin from UVB rays, the rays that burn skin and can cause cancer. The British Skin Foundation recommends using an SPF higher than 30, and if you have a fair complexion, that rises to SPF 50. Properly applied, SPF 50 can block 98 per cent  of all rays. The sun emits both UVB and UVA rays, the latter of which penetrate the skin deeper and contribute to signs of ageing – sunscreens that are 'broad spectrum' will contain protection for both.

La Mer, Shiseido and Dr. Barbara Sturm SPF skincare

Looking for a sustainable formula? "Avoid sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate says Valerie McMurray, founder and CEO of Soleil Toujours. "There are studies that show that these sunscreen chemicals are responsible for killing 10 per cent of the world's coral reefs," and we all know how important looking after our oceans is.

What the Experts Want You to Know

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Wear Sunscreen Daily

“Wear Sunscreen”, Baz Lurmann’s 1999 chart-topping song was no one hit wonder: 21 years on the sentiment is as important as ever. “Everyone should wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen regardless of age, gender or skin type. Just because you don’t burn doesn’t mean you’re not receiving UV damage from ageing UVA rays, which are the same strength all year round and can penetrate through windows. Your collagen actually starts to break down after just 10 minutes of being outside, even on a cloudy day,” says Dr Howard Murad, dermatologist and founder of Murad.

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There Are Two Types of Protection

You will be able to tell whether a sunscreen is physical (also known as mineral) or chemical by looking at the inkey list on the back of the packaging. Physical sunscreen creates a barrier to deflect UV rays, and Dr Maryam Zamani recommends it for sensitive skins and children. “Physical SPFs include ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide – they can appear white and be thicker in texture.” Chemical, on the other hand, “are absorbed into the skin and scatter UV radiation. These sunscreens are thinner and require less product to protect skin, however they can clog pores and cause more irritation so best avoided by acneic skin types. These formulations include oxybenzone, oxtinoxate, and avobenzone.”

SPF For... Sensitive Skin

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Every Skin Tone Needs SPF

“Darker skin tones are just as susceptible to the hazards of sun damage, such as hyperpigmentation and free radical damage,” says Dr Murad. Medical and cosmetic doctor Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe has some top tips: “For skin of colour, a key thing is making sure that your sunscreen doesn't leave an ashy cast. We can't be tolerating that in 2020! Beware of physical sunscreens that contain a high concentration of metals such as zinc oxide, which typically give the product a white cast on application.” Double check the inkey list if you’re unsure.

SPF For... Darker Skin Tones

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The Amount Counts

“SPF in make-up doesn't count,” says Dr Ewoma; it simply won’t give you enough protection. A dedicated sunscreen is needed. "Look at SPF in make-up as an extra layer of protection, not the full deal,” suggests Dr Murad. When applying a sunscreen, Dr Ewoma's “general rule of thumb is a 20 pence amount for colder months and 50 pence amount for warmer months – for the head and neck. The fairer the complexion, the more diligent you should be with the amount you apply.” And don’t forget often neglected areas: “the upper and lower eyelids, lips and hairline on the face and also toes, feet, underarms, and back of the neck are all all commonly missed places,” says Dr Zamani. Plus, you can use UV protection for hair, particularly good for coloured locks.

SPF For... Body & Hair

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Blue Light Skincare

Don't Forget Blue-Light Protection

Blue light (HEV) is another form of light damage; while some sunscreens contain blue-light protection, if you’re using a screen often, you may want to invest in extra protection from HEV light, too.

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