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Thinking of the beach? How to choose the best sunscreen

Woman hugging man from behind on a beach
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Picking a sunscreen for your beach holiday or day out probably isn’t high on your to-do list. With so much else to plan and look forward to, you might end up buying the cheapest bottle you find at the airport pharmacy!

While most high street pharmacy sunscreens will be good quality, there are a few things to bear in mind when choosing one. Read on for some simple tips for choosing sun care products for the whole family.

Look for UVA and UVB protection

A sun lotion should protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are largely responsible for skin cancer and sunburn, while UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, causing premature ageing and pigmentation, some type of cancer as well.

Your sunscreen should be “broad spectrum” which means it should have:

  • A numerical SPF rating showing how much UVB protection it offers
  • A star rating (out of five) showing how much UVA protection it offers

The NHS recommends only using a sunscreen if it has an SPF over 30 and a star rating of at least four.

Factor in your skin type

If you have sensitive skin, you may want to opt for a sun cream that contains mineral-based reflectors, like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. The alternative type of sun lotion, chemical absorbers, can irritate sensitive skin.

Another benefit  to mineral-based reflectors is that they offer instant protection after application, and tend to stay on the skin for longer – although reapplication is still necessary.

It’s also worth noting that fairer skin more prone to burning needs a higher level of protection. The British Skin Foundation recommends using an SPF of 50 if you have very fair skin.

Kids will typically need a sensitive product with a high SPF – the good news is, most children’s sunscreens are made this way as standard.

Choose easy application

Sunscreen tends to come as a cream, spray or mousse. A spray may seem easier and more convenient than a cream, but to be effective it needs to be applied liberally.

With kids, you might want to buy a coloured sunscreen that shows up on their skin – this makes it easier to spot any patches you might have missed. Just remember to reapply after they’ve been swimming too.

Buy more than you think you need

According to the British Skin Foundation, 67% of Brits don’t use enough sunscreen.

The BSF recommends using an amount equivalent to one full shot glass to cover your body. The amount recommended by the NHS is similar: two tablespoons. This equates to about 25-35ml each time you apply sunscreen to your entire body.

Bear in mind that sunscreen needs to be topped out throughout the day if you’re going to be staying out in the sun. This means that by the end of the first day of a beach holiday, two adults may have used up a 100ml bottle between them.

When in doubt, always buy an extra bottle.

Don’t forget the after sun

You can take all the right precautions in the sun and still end up getting burnt. That’s why it’s a good idea to stock up on after sun products, when you’re buying your sunscreen.

‘After sun’ is a moisturiser designed to soothe the skin after it’s been in the sun – often it will contain a naturally calming substance like aloe vera. SolProtect aftersun lotion is enriched with Pro Vitamin B5 to help prevent skin peeling.

If you get burnt, you should have a cool shower or gently sponge the skin with cool water, then dry off and apply your after sun.

What is the best sunscreen?

There are so many different sun lotions out there and all of them have different benefits. As long as you’re buying a product with the recommended UVA and UVB protection (at least 30 SPF and four stars), you can be sure it meets the minimum level of safe sun exposure.

How should I apply sunscreen?

Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed areas of skin – don’t forget the backs of your hands, feet, ears, and neck! The NHS recommends putting it on twice before you go out: 30 minutes before you leave, and then again right before you go out the door.

Once you’re out, make sure you reapply roughly every two hours, and more regularly if the sun lotion is getting rubbed off e.g. you’re sweating a lot or swimming.

If you’re using waterproof or “once a day” sun cream, reapplication is still really important. Sun cream can get rubbed off your skin in all sorts of ways – even just by resting your arms on a table or hugging someone.

Lastly, remember that the best way to avoid sunburn is to cover your skin with clothing and a hat, and sit in the shade. During the hottest part of the day (11am-3pm) it’s best to avoid direct sunlight.