Do we need to wear sunscreen all year round? (Pretty much all you need to know about UV rays, their effect on skin & SPF products).

Do we really need to wear sunscreen all year round? 

Why would we ever need to wear an SPF product unless we were feeling the warmth of the sun on our skin and enjoying those long hot blue sky summer days? 

Well perhaps surprisingly, the suns UV rays (these are the rays that can cause skin damage) can still reach us, even through clouds, and windows1. 

So although we may be outside on a grey autumn or winters day with cloudy skies above, or sat at a computer inside by the window, we are actually still exposed to the potentially damaging effects of these rays on our skin. It is the UV radiation that damages skin, not the temperature. And although UVB rays are strongest in the summer, UVA rays remain at a constant level all year around.2

We are also exposed to HEV High Energy blue visible light from the sun and our devices like phones & computers, that has additionally been linked to skin damage3.

Of course there are benefits to safe sun exposure, essential Vitamin D, boost in our mood and immune system4, but care should be taken.  

In studiesUVA & UVB rays have been found to be the number one cause of deterioration in our skins youthful appearance. We might think it is the sands of time that make us look older, but actually up to 90% of skin ageing is due to sun damage5.

Now, i’m not saying our skin shouldn’t show signs of ageing, chronological ageing is unavoidable and should be respected, it’s a privilege denied to many of course! What I’m talking about is damage to the skin so that it doesn’t function as well as it could, becoming less elastic, wrinkled or even dry and flakey. As this is mostly caused by the sun, of course we can prevent it through our actions, and keep skin functioning at its best for as long as possible. 

Sunscreen all year round? UV Rays and how they affect skin

UVB rays have short wavelengths and do not really penetrate past the top layer of our skin. They damage the cell DNA, leading to sunburn and can cause cancers. Our body reacts to these rays by producing melanin to stop further damage & the UV penetrating the skin4– we call this a tan. Doesn’t sound so desirable put like that does it!

UVA rays have a longer wavelength and can therefore penetrate skin much deeper, and this is where skin damage and ageing occurs. Free radicals are produced, unstable oxygen molecules that cause oxidative stress in skin, damaging DNA and leading to collagen and elastin fibre degradation in skin’s bottom layer (dermis). This chain reaction results in skin not rebuilding as it should after being damaged; to wrinkle, be less elastic, leathery, or with hyperpigmentation (age spots) and more. We call this skin ageing or specifically photoageing5.

So, with all of this said, what should we actually do about protecting our skin even if it’s not summer time or particularly hot or sunny outside? 

One of the best things we can do to protect our skin and help prolong its best health and condition, is to wear a sunscreen (SPF) all year round if you are being exposed to UV rays, irrelevant of the weather. 

Sunscreen all year round? And UV ray damage infographic

What are sunscreens (or SPF products) and how do they work?

SPF translates to the ‘sun protection factor’ of a sunscreen product. There are two different types of UV filters that make up a sunscreen: chemical filters (or ‘organic’ as contain carbon) and physical / mineral filters (or ‘inorganic’, do not contain carbon).  

Chemical filters are, funnily enough, known by their chemical names such as Diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate, Avobenzone, Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine. The physical filters used are Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. 

Contrary to popular belief, both filter types actually work similarly; mostly absorbing the suns rays, a chemical reaction occurs converting the UV into heat, which is then released off the skin. Physical filters, additionally reflect some of the rays away from the skin6.

Sunscreens using mineral UV filters are classed as more natural as they use Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide which are natural occurring compounds, but it’s most likely that the ones used in your cosmetics are synthetically produced.

Some natural skin care companies also use skin-safe chemical filters in their products; having a mix of both physical and chemical sunscreens allows for a broader level of skin protection.

Chemical filter sunscreens make up your traditional sunscreen products, and most of what you’ll find in a high street store will be chemical filter sunscreen. They normally absorb quickly and without a trace.

Mineral sunscreens can leave an undesirable ‘white cast’ on the skin from the Zinc and Titanium sun block. But if your skin is sensitive then you may prefer these mineral sunscreens as they tend to cause less skin irritation. A few of the chemical filters such as the commonly used avobenzone are known skin irritants7.

There are pros and cons to both types of UV filter so it really is up to personal choice. The best SPF sunscreen is the one you are happy to wear regularly or better yet every day that you have UV exposure. The good news is there is a wide range of fantastic products out there for all budgets and skin types. 

Young woman applying sunscreen on her face in snow landscape

Things to look for when purchasing an SPF product

1. Ensure it has a minimum SPF of 15 for winter time, and then definitely increasing this as you move out of winter where the UV index is higher. SPF is mostly a measure of the increase in time your skin is protected versus not wearing any SPF. For example an SPF 30 will allow you to be in the sun 30x time longer than without cream, SPF 50x longer. An SPF 30 will block out all but 3% of UVB, SPF 50 all but 2%.7

2. Avoid UV filters that can make eyes sting or irritate skin, eye stinging is a common problem with chemical sunscreen compared to mineral and well worth checking if you wear contact lenses or have sensitive eyes. Even if the sunscreen is just on your forehead, after a few hours of your day it can slip down the skin and into your eyes. The fragrance and preservatives used in sunscreen can also cause skin and eye irritation, so choose unscented and a natural skincare company’s product if you have sensitive skin as they are likely to be using less irritating preservatives. If you struggle to find a sunscreen to wear around the eyes without stinging then at least wear sunglasses, most have UV protection in the lenses. If you’re worried about eyes stinging do a google search of the sunscreen before purchasing to see if anyone talks about it stinging their eyes.

3. Ensure your sunscreen has the words ‘broad spectrum’ on the label, this means it covers all UV types ensuring you have full protection. SPF relates to the protection from the UVB rays (that cause sunburn), so ensure the bottle says it will protect you from both UVB and the skin ageing UVA.

4. Make sure that your product is coral reef safe, unfortunately a number of UV chemical filters have been shown to damage corals, and even nano-size Zinc particles too(so choose non-nano if you can). Applying sunscreen then either going in the sea or washing it off introduces those potentially damaging compounds to the water table. Although some think the damage we cause corals with our sunscreen may be minimal, coral bleaching is a real problem so why not try to avoid ingredients known to be toxic to them. Mineral sunscreens that use non-nano Zinc and / or Titanium should be totally coral-safe. Sunscreens using coral-safe filters, be they chemical or mineral, should list this on their bottles or online literature. 

Sunscreen ingredients that can kill coral reefs. Chemical sea pollution

Blue Labelle Recommends

Green People Facial Sun Cream SPF 30

  • Effective, broad-spectrum protection against UVA & UVB rays
  • Mix of mineral and safe UV filters to protect skin
  • Contains high levels of antioxidants from Edelweiss & Rosemary
  • Non-irritating, with no scent making it suitable for sensitive skin, and those prone to prickly heat
  • Anti-ageing Green Tea protects and maintains collagen and elastin in the skin

Organii SPF 50 Sun Milk

This SPF 50 organic sunscreen milk is well absorbed, registered by the Vegan Society and certified organic. It uses non-nano mineral sun block ingredients to offer excellent sun protection for the whole family. 

Multi-award winning including Beauty Shortlist, Green Parent Magazine and Bizzie Baby awards.

Whatever the time of year, it’s a great time to invest in a good quality SPF product that will take you through the months ahead, and yes, wear it all year round, whenever you’ll be exposed to UV rays.

Shop Sun Protection

Also make sure you’re using skincare that is rich in antioxidant vitamins like Vitamin E and Vitamin C, as these mop up free radical damage at the skin’s surface. 

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