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SPF comes with many misconceptions, so we asked an expert to separate the fact from the fiction


Navigating through the SPF space can be confusing, and you need to be careful not to get burnt by the wrong information. We’ve enlisted the help of Clare O’Connor, Skin Science Senior Research Scientist at Boots UK, to settle those SPF myths once and for all.


Firstly, what is SPF?


SPF stands for ‘sun protection factor’. It measures a sunscreen’s ability to protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. The sun emits two types of UV radiation that reach our skin – UVA and UVB.


UVA is associated with skin ageing and deeper down damage. UVB is responsible for the majority of sunburn, as well as skin damage and ageing. Both UVA and UVB can cause skin cancer. SPF measures a sunscreen’s protection from burning UV rays while the star rating measures the amount of UVA protection.


You should see a star rating of up to five stars on UK sunscreens. The higher the star rating, the better (the lowest recommended star rating is four). Products that don’t specify a star rating could still provide the same level of protection.


So, now that’s cleared up, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and bust those myths.


1. You only need to wear SPF when it’s sunny


Possibly one of the most believed SPF myths, however “UV light is present all year round, and UVA rays can penetrate through clouds,” says Clare.


“The majority of sunburn actually happens on cloudy days during the summer months, so it’s important to wear sun protection daily from March to October in the UK.”


2. The higher the SPF, the more protected I am


“It’s true that the higher the SPF, the more protected you are against burning. That said, it’s just as important to check the level of UVA protection in your sunscreen. Look for products with a five star UVA rating to ensure you’re protecting yourself against sunburn and any longer-term damage to the skin,” advises Clare.


“Protection levels are also dependent on the amount you apply. If you scrimp on the sun cream you compromise on the protection, so apply liberally and frequently according to the guidelines on your pack.”


3. My make-up contains SPF, so I don’t need one


“While layering products containing SPF is always beneficial in case you miss areas with your sunscreen, relying solely on cosmetics for SPF protection isn’t the answer,” states Clare.


“Protection is dependent on the amount applied, and for our face and neck we need a teaspoon of product. It’s unlikely that a whole teaspoon of foundation would be used on the face, therefore a sunscreen should always be used as well.”


4. You can’t tan while wearing SPF


“High SPF protection products will delay the rate at which your skin tans, but there’s no such thing as a total sunblock. You’ll still eventually tan while wearing SPF, albeit more slowly,” says Clare.


“Your skin will be less damaged and the resulting colour will last longer.” Glow-getters rejoice! But remember, any tanning is a sign your skin has been damaged!


5. SPF causes breakouts


“One of the biggest causes of breakouts in summer is actually UV light itself,” assures Clare. “If you suffer from spots or acne, not wearing a sun protection is by far more harmful for your skin.”


“Unfortunately, as UV exposure increases in summer and sunscreens are applied to the face, the product is often blamed for breakouts rather than the weather. Choose a facial sun product or daily moisturiser with SPF that’s lightweight and non-greasy,” so it doesn’t clog your pores.


6. People with darker skin tones don’t need SPF


“It’s correct that the darker your skin, the longer it’ll take to burn. Nevertheless, darker skin does still burn and can accumulate longer-term skin damage also,” confirms Clare. “People with darker skin can still contract cancer and it’s often detected much later, with higher mortality rates.”


“In addition to the health benefits of using sun protection, skin concerns like uneven pigmentation and wrinkles are worsened by UV exposure, so there are many reasons to wear an SPF daily – even if you have darker skin,” adds Clare.


7. I don’t need to worry about SPF inside


“You aren’t going to burn indoors, but UVA light can penetrate window glass. So, if you’re going to be sitting by a window all day, wear a daily moisturiser that contains five star UVA protection,” recommends Clare.


And there you have it, the real deal on all things SPF. If it’s not already in your stash, this is your sign!