How to protect your skin in sunny weather

The last week in the UK has had that magical feeling of the seasons turning. The breeze is warmer, the blossoms have bloomed, and turtlenecks are swapped for a bardot neckline.
But if there’s one thing that annoys me about British summertime, it’s Brits’ aversion to looking after their skin properly. You see women blistering themselves in a hope to get a golden glow, and we all know at least one bloke who comes out of a beer garden with third degree burns.

Image source: Amirite?!

As a scientist, let me make one thing clear; UV damage is irreversible and accumulative. Once it is done, it is done, and the damage stacks up over your lifetime. There’s no point in thinking ‘oh it’s alright, i’ll wear factor 50 when I’m 40’. Too late. It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity or skin tone, it needs protection. Yes, a higher melanin level will provide better natural protection but it still isn’t complete protection. Young skin is not bomb-proof. And nobody wants to look like a leather handbag by the time they’re 40.

Knowing a bit about the science behind why the sun’s rays damage your skin will help you to understand how to protect it better. So first, a quick science 101…

There are two types of UV rays that reach ground level, that cause different types of damage. UV-A rays can enter deep into the skin, past the top layers of your skin (epidermis) into the layer underneath called the dermis. The collagen structure of your skin lies in the dermis, and UV-A rays break down this structure, causing wrinkles and loss of skin firmness. Sunbeds emit largely UV-A rays.
The second type of UV rays are UV-B and these rays cannot penetrate into the dermis due to their shorter wavelength. These rays are the ones that cause the skin to burn, and stimulate the cells that produce melanin (melanocytes), causing the skin to darken in response to try and protect the skin from damage. Both types of UV cause skin dryness and irritation, and cause the epidermis to thicken and appear coarser.
Another source of photo-damage to the skin is from free radicals, which come from both UV and ionising radiation from the sun’s rays. Free radicals are an atom or molecule that have an unpaired electron in its outer shell. Because of this, they are highly reactive and seek to react with anything they come into contact with. When the skin is exposed to free radicals they can cause damage to the DNA within cells and to lipid (fatty) membranes around cells. This cell damage can cause a multitude of problems, including skin cancer.

Image source: UV explained

So now you know a bit about how it happens, take the steps below to protect your skin – you’ll be thankful for it later. 

  1. The easiest way to get in a decent level of sun protection easy into your routine is to buy a foundation with a high SPF factor, I recommend 30 minimum for the face. For example, Bobbi Brown Intensive Skin Serum Foundation has an SPF of 40. Not only will there be chemical protectants in the formulation, but the pigments themselves help to physically block UV radiation.
  2. If the foundation you love just isn’t cutting it with a high SPF, wear a moisturiser or a primer underneath that does. NARS Pro-Prime Multi-Protect Primer SPF 30 helps provide an SPF protection, on top of containing a mixture of antioxidants which will help provide protection against reactive oxygen species, a type of free radical.
  3. Make sure that your body is covered too. Use a suncream with a minimum of 20 SPF (yes, even in the British summer). I never wear a factor lower than 30, higher if abroad. Also it is important to note that SPF is only a measurement of how effective a product is at protecting against UV-B damage (burning). It does not indicate how good a product is against protecting against UV-A. For this, it is usually indicated on the bottle, perhaps using the ‘star system’, a system devised by Boots to show the ratio of protection of UV-A to UV-B protection.
  4. Sounds obvious, but stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water. Your skin will be losing water at a faster rate than normal and those cells are gonna be thirsty.
  5. If you have been in the sun all day, smother yourself in a rich moisturiser to prevent your skin going dry. Personally I live and die by Palmer’s Cocoa Butter. If you have caught the sun and your skin is sore, aloe based products will help soothe the skin.
  6. And the best way to protect yourself? Don’t go into the sun for more than 45 mins at a time, keep dipping in and out of the shade.


I’m sorry if I sound like a mum, but sun damage is something that can so easily be prevented and minimised.

Your skin is beautiful thing, look after it. 


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