Understanding sunscreen: everything you need to know about year-round sun safety

Sunscreen is vital for good skin health — this is something we all know. But how many of us really know why? UV rays provide our bodies with essential vitamin D, which helps with good bone health, a robust immune system, and a gorgeously golden sun-kissed glow (of course!). But it comes with a huge caveat: overexposure to UV rays can cause serious skin complications, including premature ageing. 

Our skin specialist Gené is here to answer common sunscreen questions, bust some myths, and show you how to care for your skin with products and treatments while still enjoying a beautifully toasted tan. This is your ultimate guide to sunscreen and sun protection!

Sunscreen: the origin story

Sunscreen can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, who protected their skin using a blend of rice, jasmine, and lupine seed extracts. You'll also find traces of sunscreen use in ancient Greece (olive oil) and in native America (pine needles and sunflower oil). 

"The first 'chemical sunscreen' was Benzyl Salicylate, which was invented in 1928," says Gené. "After that, Eugène Schueller set up L'Oréal Laboratories in 1935 to create a sun protection product. Eugène was very fair-skinned and kept getting burnt!" 

L'Oréal Laboratories came up with a sun oil containing Benzyl Salicylate, which helps filter out UVB light. This product was launched as Ambre Solaire — a brand you can still find in the shops today.

Why is sunscreen so important

Why is sunscreen so important for skin health?

Sunscreen is essential for protecting skin against serious health conditions and physical damage. UV exposure speeds up skin cell oxidation, which damages your DNA and stops the cells from reproducing and performing at an optimum level. Over time, this can reduce the proteins, hyaluronic acid, and collagen in your skin, leading to the appearance of premature ageing.

Skin conditions caused by UV overexposure include:

  • Sun damage
  • Pigmentation
  • Skin cancer
  • Sun spots
  • Inflammation
  • Redness
  • Melasma (brown patches on the face, arms, neck, and chest)
  • Fine lines
  • Wrinkles

"It's important to note that UV radiation causes at least 90% of the visible changes we associate with ageing," says Gené. "Being indoors makes very little difference — if you're working near a window, you still need to apply sunscreen."

The sun produces two types of ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB. Each has a different effect on the skin.

UVA rays

UVA rays are low-energy, long-wavelength rays which penetrate deeply. They're responsible for tanning the skin through an enzymatic process called 'tyrosinase' — the UVA rays hit your melanocyte cells, causing them to produce melanin, which darkens your skin. UVA rays are responsible for causing the signs of premature ageing.

UVB rays

UVB rays are high-energy, short-wavelength rays that only reach the skin's surface. Although they don't penetrate as deeply as UVA rays, UVBs are responsible for causing sunburn and cancer formation in the skin. 

The sun isn’t the only source of visible light and infrared (IR) — your laptop screen, TV screen, and phone screen also emit them (and yes, they can also cause oxidative stress on your skin!).

Misconception!

"People think you can't get a good tan while wearing sun protection. This isn't true at all," says Gené. "Sunscreen is designed to let a small amount of UV light through, so your skin can still tan. No Sunscreen can block out 100% of UV rays."

Best treatments for sun damaged skin

Sun damage causes a hyper-ageing effect. You’ll notice a thickening of the skin, more pigmentation, and a loss of elasticity over time. Gené is quick to point out that there are in-clinic treatments that can help reduce the appearance of sun damage. Microdermabrasion, micro-needling, facial peels, microcurrent (CACI), and LED light therapy are great options to consider because they increase skin cell turnover while removing the damaged layer. 

You can treat the oxidative effects of sun damage with antioxidants, too. Vitamin C is a powerful ingredient that can help protect and correct sun damage — it’s available in topical skincare products as well as other antioxidant products from brands like Eminence Organics, SkinCeuticals, and ZO Skin Health.

Heliocare sunscreen products can also help give you an antioxidant boost while protecting from UV rays. Their products contain a patented ingredient called ‘Fernblock’ which is a powerful antioxidant, clinically proven to protect and correct DNA damage in cells

"By combining bespoke at-home treatments with powerful in-salon treatments, we can target all your skin concerns, no matter your skin type," says Gené. "Using both treatment methods together can improve the appearance of all problematic concerns."

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Skincare at Paul Edmonds London

How to find out which sunscreen is best for you

Sunscreens come in two variations: mineral and chemical. If that weren't enough, you can tailor your level of protection by choosing a specific sun protection factor (SPF). You can also select a formulation that works with your skin type. 

What is the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen?

Mineral

Mineral sunscreens protect the skin by deflecting UV radiation using filters like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which form a protective barrier over the surface of your skin. Some mineral SPFs also include chemical ingredients to change the consistency of the product, so it’s more pleasant to wear.

"Mineral filters are naturally occurring, which makes mineral sunscreens a great option for all skin types, including sensitive and post-procedure skin," says Gené.

Chemical

Chemical sunscreens absorb into the skin rather than sitting on the surface as a mineral sunscreen would. Instead, chemical sunscreen works by absorbing the sun's rays and transforming them into heat which your skin can release.

What does SPF mean on sunscreen?

The 'sun protection factor' (SPF) was introduced in 1974 by Piz Buin founder Franz Greiter after skin cancer fears started to take hold in the general public. SPF is a formula that determines the fraction of UVB light to reach the skin over time.

SPF 30 gives roughly 96% protection against harmful radiation, and SPF 50 gives you 98% protection. The difference might seem marginal, but with SPF 30, you're allowing three per cent more UV radiation into the skin.

"There's no need to go higher than SPF 50 as it is less effective," says Gené. "It also has additional ingredients which may irritate your skin. Whichever you choose, SPF should be a vital part of your everyday skincare routine."

Mineral sunscreens protect the skin by deflecting UV radiation using filters like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which form a protective barrier over the surface of your skin. Some mineral SPFs also include chemical ingredients to change the consistency of the product, so it’s more pleasant to wear.

Important!  

"Having sun protection in your moisturiser or make-up is better than nothing, but it doesn't give the same level of protection as a sunscreen, reapplied regularly throughout the day," Gené says.

Our favourites

Our favourite sunscreen products at Paul Edmonds London

Gené and her colleagues at the Paul Edmonds London skin destination are huge believers in skin protection (if you couldn't tell already!). Because of this, we stock a wide range of sunscreen products from renowned brands like Heliocare, SkinCeuticals, and ZO Skin Health

Here's a whistle-stop tour of product picks and innovative formulations, so you can find a form of sun safety that works for your skin type and lifestyle. 

Heliocare Sun Touch SPF 50

Gone are the days when you had to endure a bright white cast on your face after applying sunscreen. Sun protection innovators, Heliocare, have developed a light cream with a subtle shimmer. 

"The latest sun protection has smaller mineral particles, so it leaves a smooth, transparent film over the skin rather than a harsh white residue," says Gené. "Heliocare also does a tinted oil-free gel, available in beige and bronze shades suitable for all skin types including sensitive and intolerant skin."




Heliocare 360 Gel Oil-Free 

A new breed of sunscreen! The 360 oil-free gel is a lightweight formula that gives a higher level of protection, as well as UVA and UVB defence, and Heliocare's BioShield System, which absorbs High Energy visible light (HEV) at the surface while neutralising infrared A radiation within the skin.

"It provides antioxidants in the form of Ferulic Acid Vitamin C and E," says Gené, "This gel also has an ingredient called 'Fernblock', which is an extract from a fern that can protect itself from the sun. It suits all skin types, too!"



SPFs

Both ZO Skin Health and SkinCeuticals make some wonderful SPF products for the body, face, and eye areas. Top product picks include SkinCeuticals Mineral Eye UV Defense with SPF 30 and ZO Skin Health Sunscreen + Primer Broad-Spectrum SPF30, which double as skincare and make-up prep.

"Don't forget, sunscreen does wear off, so re-application should be more frequent and must be applied liberally to ensure adequate protection," says Gené. "Most people don't apply enough sunscreen — aim for a £2 coin-sized amount to cover the face, neck, and chest. 



Book an appointment with Gené and the team at Paul Edmonds London and get a bespoke sunscreen recommendation or head to the online shop and pick up a product favourite. 


Does your sun damaged skin need help? Book a treatment at our skin destination and let us help you back to your best, healthiest skin once more.