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Dr Veronique Bataille In Mail Online...Will A £1 Suncream Protect Your Skin?
There's one surefire way to know that summer has started in Britain - and that's the sight of lobster-red, sorry-looking people painfully making their way home from the park or beach.
Indeed, despite the fact that our recent soaring temperatures easily matched those in southern Europe, research by the charity Macmillan Cancer Support found only a quarter of women use suncream when in the UK, and a third of those use a low-protection cream, with an SPF of ten or below.
'You are just as likely to get burnt in the UK as abroad, and as more than 2,500 people die of skin cancer every year, it is a real issue,' says Carol Goodman, a Macmillan information nurse specialist.
However, other experts have recently warned that our paranoia about the dangers of the sun is to blame for the growing number of Britons deficient in vitamin D, vital for bones and teeth.
And is it worth choosing a more expensive product?
Here, with the help of expert dermatologists, Good Health answers your questions on sun protection, and Dr Mervyn Patterson, a cosmetic dermatologist based at the Woodford Medical Clinic in Essex, offers his verdict on popular sunscreens, which we then rated out of five.
So how much sun protection do you really need?
What Does SPF Mean? The sun's radiation reaches Earth in the form of UVA and UVB rays. It's the UVB rays that cause sunburn, and research shows this can lead to some forms of skin cancer.
A product's Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of how much longer it means you can stay in the sun without burning compared to normal.
For instance, if you normally burn in ten minutes without protection, then using a sun screen with SPF 30 means you could theoretically spend 300 minutes in the sun without burning.
Which SPF Should I Choose? Dr Hillary Allan, a dermatologist at Woodford Medical Aesthetics, says anything less than a factor 20 is a waste of time: 'I'd recommend wearing 30 to 50.'
If you're fair, don't go below factor 30 if you're in hot sun, says Dr Veronique Bataille, consultant dermatologist at the Princess Grace Hospital, London.
'If you use factor 30, even if you apply it badly - which most people do - you're still quite well protected for two to three hours. If you use anything lower than that and you miss a bit, you'll burn. If you're lying in UK sun, however, a factor 15 to 20 should be sufficient.'
The key is to know your own skin, says Professor Julia Newton-Bishop, dermatologist at St James's University Hospital in Leeds.
'Work out what you have to do to prevent burning - and by that I mean going pink, not blistering.'
And if you're trying to get a tan? 'Don't sunbathe - use an artificial tan. Who wants a red, shiny nose anyway?'
What Are The Star Ratings? Star ratings refer to protection from the sun's UVA rays. The damage these rays do is not so easily visible as they do not cause the skin to go red. Instead they penetrate deep below the skin's surface and can cause more serious, malignant melanoma and premature ageing.
Some - but not all - creams state the amount of UVA protection they offer, using a star rating from one to five.
'Always choose suncreams with a five-star rating,' says Dr Allan.
How Much Should I Apply? To use sunscreen at the recommended rate, use a generous fingerful on each area - one on the face, one on the neck, and so on. You would use about 35ml to cover a whole adult body, meaning two people would get through a standard 200ml bottle in about two days.
'Do your first application 30 minutes before you go out in the sun, so it's absorbed by the top layer of the skin,' says Professor Newton-Bishop. Always reapply after swimming, but wait until the skin is dry or it won't be effective.
Are Sprays Superior To Creams? Experts agree the most important thing is to find a suncream you like to use.
'Sprays are easy to apply, which means people are more likely to apply them thoroughly and repeatedly,' says Dr Allan.
However, others warn that people do not always apply sprays thickly enough.
Sunscreens work in two ways. They usually contain chemical ingredients, such as avobenzone, which absorb the sun's rays, or 'physical' or natural compounds, such as zinc oxide, which reflect the rays off the skin.
Water resistant suncreams use a specific balance of chemical and physical ingredients that stick to your skin in a different way when you're in water, says Dr Bataille. But she warns 'they are not foolproof', so reapply after swimming.
If you suffer with eczema and allergies, she advises 'physical' creams (choose products containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) 'as these sit on the skin and seem to cause less irritation'.
Is It Worth Spending More? 'More expensive suncreams may smell nice and feel less greasy, but in terms of efficacy, deep down all these products are very good and you're not putting your health at risk by choosing cheaper products,' says Dr Bataille.
And What About Vitamin D? Dark-skinned people are more likely to have depleted vitamin D levels, says Professor Newton-Bishop. High levels of the pigment melanin are thought to block the body's cells from synthesising sunlight into vitamin D.
'So what we don't want is olive and dark-skinned people religiously wearing a high SPF because they are sacrificing their vitamin D. Don't let yourself burn, but don't be paranoid.'
Experts advise the fair-skinned to get out in the sun in the heat of the day for around 20 minutes three times a week without suncream.
However, if you burn quicker than this, reduce the time.
Professor Newton-Bishop takes a different approach: 'I find it easier to cover up in the sun, wear factor 30 or above, and boost vitamin D with cod liver supplements.'