Sun Care - Q&A with dermatology nurse Paula Oliver

We all know that skincare and sun protection is important when we go on holiday. There’s nothing like slathering on the sunscreen before basking in the heat on a bright white beach. But coronavirus has put paid to many of our holiday plans so many of us are swapping sunbathing abroad for soaking up in the rays in our back garden/balcony/public green spaces.

So what does that mean for our sun care regime?

It’s all too easy to fob suncream off as something we use when we’re ‘somewhere warm’. We don’t need SPF in blustery Britain, right? These days, it regularly gets up to 28/30’C in the summer months - that’s the kind of temperature you’d expect on a June day in Rome.
Only the very foolhardy would think about visiting Italy without packing some high strength SPF. But even on winter days, UV rays can be strong - which is why beauty editors, dermatologists and skincare professionals always recommend wearing a high SPF all year round regardless of the weather, season or country

To help you get your sun protecting habits in order, nurse Paula Oliver has been answering our questions on all things skin and sun safety. 

Should all skin cream contain a 30+ SPF or even 50+ nowadays?

For creams, sprays and lotions, it’s worth using a higher SPF - 30+ ideally. I personally use an SPF 50+ on my face every day - all year round -but I am fair-skinned so am more at risk of developing sun-damaged skin. 

Many moisturisers and foundations contain SPF 15 and for many people, they would still need to apply sunscreen regularly on top of that. I guess if all cosmetic creams contained a high SPF of 30+, it may discourage people from applying their sunscreen on a regular basis. It’s an interesting thought though!

I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my forehead, and I use a concealer and a high SPF moisturiser. What is the product you would recommend for moisturising mature skin and protecting for further sun damage- or has the damage already been done from being a sun worshipper in the 80s, using very little sunscreen?

Over the past 25 years, I’ve looked after many people that have been diagnosed with basal cell carcinomas and we always say it’s ‘never too late’ to protect yourself for the future. In fact, it’s worth getting into the habit of applying your sun protection (SPF50) daily - all year round. After washing your face, apply your sunscreen. Then if you want to use a concealer/foundation, apply that after. Most foundations only have  SPF15 so don’t forget the sunscreen. In terms of moisturising, any cream that suits your skin type will be fine.

Is it true that SPF creams have to be applied every two hours as they lose their efficacy (e.g. if you’re spending a day in the sun)?

First of all, check the product information leaflet to see what the manufacturer recommends for the product you are using. No sunscreen will give the protection it claims unless you use enough and apply it properly. It doesn’t matter what the brand is or the price - as long as it is SPF30+ and has a star rating of 4 or 5 stars.

Every year from May, I introduce sunshine back to my skin (for vitamin D). I do this gradually; I never do more than 30 minutes but I always get an itchy back! Is there a reason for this?

It may be that what you're describing is a form of ‘prickly heat’. In dermatology, we call this ‘polymorphic light eruption’. It’s a common rash caused by your skin being sensitive to sunlight. It tends to be more common as we go into the spring months. 

I suggest you explore the information on the NHS website which will provide you with more information. Using sunscreens with SPF30+ may also help.

I tend to get dry skin after sunbathing. Even a short time in the sun with sun cream results in dry skin. I have tried lots of moisturisers but none seem to help. What would your advice be, apart from staying out of the sun?

My first bit of advice would be to always take care in the sun as the UK has a growing incidence of skin cancer. It sounds like you are using sun protection but it may be worth trying a different brand of sunscreen with SPF30+ as it may be that you have become sensitive to your current product. Otherwise, try a slightly greasier moisturiser with a higher (lipid) fat content to see if that helps.

Paula’s general suncream tips to live by include:

Make sure you put enough sunscreen on – people often apply much less than they need to. When your risk of burning is high, apply sunscreen evenly and thickly. This means applying around two teaspoonfuls of sunscreen for covering your head, arms and neck. 

Reapply sunscreen regularly throughout the day including ‘once a day’ and ‘water-resistant’ products. Sunscreen can rub, sweat or wash off. It’s especially important to reapply after towelling dry. Reapplying helps avoid missing bits of skin. 

Don’t store sunscreens in very hot places as extreme heat can ruin their protective chemicals. 

Check the expiry date on your sunscreen before you use it. Look for a symbol on the pot with the letter M and a number which shows the number of months the sunscreen will last once it’s been opened.


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Last revised: 19 August 2020
Next review: 19 August 2021