Cheat Sheet – SPF

Now that the sun is here I am asked more frequently about moisturisers with SPF – and which to use, when – and how much?

I have inadvertently given the impression on this blog that I don’t use SPF – absolutely my fault for not being clear.

So to put the record straight: I have olive skin and have Native American Indian in my background. I tan easily, burn rarely and worship the sun. However, my Mother (much paler than me) has suffered with melanoma quite seriously so I have my skin checked under Woods Lamps and keep an eye on my moles. And I absolutely use SPF when sunbathing – and when in hot climates for work – I just don’t use daily dedicated SPF in my skincare.

In the winter I get my SPF from my make-up – and in the summer I get SPF from a specific SPF product. I.E. a dedicated sunscreen that gives both UVA and UVB protection. UVC doesn’t penetrate that atmosphere so we don’t need to worry on that score.

My problem with SPF in moisturisers is two-fold:

  1. It gives you a false sense of security. In the 1920’s the incidences of melanoma – with no SPF available – were around 1 in 1500. In 2013 they are 1 in 53 – with years of SPF being available and modern science – 1 in 53. Why? Because we apply it once and move on, thinking we’re done.
    If you use a moisturiser containing SPF 15 (for example) at 8am in the morning – assuming you apply it all over your face (most people leave out areas of their face when moisturising) – if you would normally burn in 15 minutes of sun exposure, technically you should be reapplying your SPF at 11.45am. How are you going to do that without removing your full face of makeup? I know no-one that takes their makeup off halfway through the day to reapply sunscreen.
    And if you are sunbathing – to use the recommended amount – you would need to use a bottle of SPF a DAY. A DAY. 
    If you apply your SPF moisturiser religiously every day and think you are protected – you may not be.
  2. A moisturiser containing SPF invariably only protects from UVB – it does not protect you from UVA. So you won’t burn, but your collagen will break down and you’ll still get wrinkles. Excellent. Also – SPF moisturisers are less likely to be rub-resistant or water-resistant. So if you apply your makeup with fingers or a brush (everyone) or perspire/sweat – it’s gone.

If you want proper protection from the sun you need to use a broad spectrum sun protectant cream – a dedicated product that’s sole purpose is to protect your skin from the damage the sun does to it.

Honestly? Companies that add SPF to their general ‘anti-ageing’ moisturisers are throwing it in there as an ‘added benefit’ and a sales tool. Sun protection is not an ‘added benefit’. It’s a critical, proven step to protect from ageing.

The EU is on to this and making sweeping changes from this July. The symbol above can only be shown on packaging of a product that has proven to provide at least a third of its protection against UVA. Not just UVB.

In terms of routine?

  • cleanse
  • tone
  • serum (if you use)
  • moisturiser (non-spf!)
  • SPF product
  • makeup

The EU has also reclassified sun protection ratings:

  • Low = 6-14 (God knows what they would call my old preferred SPF 4 oil of the 80’s)
  • Medium = 15-29
  • High = 30-50
  • Very high = 50+

If you are fair, white, ‘pale’ – you should be in the ‘High’ category.

If you are any type of ethnicity that tans easily and rarely burns you can use low-medium as long as you use it wisely.

If you are a redhead however you are strictly in the ‘Very high’ category. Redheads with freckles have phaeomelanin – opposed to the rest of us that have eumelanin. You’ll burn easily, quickly and the damage will be long-lasting.

If you use an SPF in the low-medium category you will still tan.

If you don’t want any colour at all you need to use 30 and above and reapply frequently.

N.B. – SPF degrades. Buy new each year. 

When I use Woods Lamps or similar technology on clients the main areas that nearly always show damage are the tops of the ears (ALWAYS the top of the ears), the back of the neck and the tip of the nose. Forewarned is forearmed.

Enjoy the sun. I LOVE the sun. Just protect yourself.