Tanning fact can be hard to separate from tanning fiction. Leading suncare experts to tell us their golden rules
SPF50 offers almost twice the protection of SPF30, right? Wrong. 'An SPF6 filters out 75 per cent of the sun's rays,' explains leading pharmacist Dr Emma Meredith. 'Then it takes a jump as SPF15 filters out 93 per cent, so we recommend everyone uses at least this. Above that the difference is small, with SPF30 filtering out 97 per cent of the sun's rays and SPF filtering out 98 per cent.' So what's the point of going super-high? 'For very fair skin that burns easily every percentage point counts, so an SPF50 is best.' Vichy Capital Soleil Skin Cell Sun Protection Milk SPF50, £18.50, also contains an anti-ageing formula.
The sun is stronger the closer you are to the equator, says dermatology expert Professor Mark Birch-Machin. 'You're exposed to more UVB rays, which is why you burn more quickly in tropical places," he says, 'but ageing UVA rays are constant, and present wherever there is natural light.' So even if you're going for a run in your local park, you still need protection against both kinds of rays: try Lancaster Sun Sport Multi-Protection Express Mist, SPF15, £21, which is sweat and water resistant.
A fat price tag doesn't mean better protection. 'Whether it's expensive or cheap, a product claiming a certain level of protection is legally required to contain that amount,' says Dr Meredith. Where cost can matter is in the wearability of a sunscreen. 'Many years of extensive research into a product, and how it feels on the skin or under make-up, or the speed at which it is absorbed, might make it more expensive,' she explains. 'Even then, such research has filtered down to less expensive brands. Low cost doesn't mean low quality.'
Staggeringly, most of us use half the amount of sunscreen we need. 'The average person needs about two teaspoons.' If it helps, remember that sunscreen is also a moisturiser- and you'd never skimp on that. For one great product that moisturises and protects, we love Sisley Broad Spectrum Facial Sunscreen SPF50, £98: 'An SPF30 or above can be used as a moisturiser in the summer,' says dermatologist Dr Jennifer Jones at the Royal Free Hospital. 'I mix mine with foundation.'
Sun is important for producing super-nutrient vitamin D. 'At the end of winter, half of Britons have low levels,' says skin cancer expert Dr Paul Banwell. 'This can be rectified by ten minutes' exposure without sunscreen up to three times a week (not between 11am and 3pm).' If you have fair skin, Dr Lowe recommends a supplement instead, and suggests 1,000 to 2,000iu of vitamin D3 per day. Try Solgar Vitamin D3 1000iu, £6.53, from nutricentre.com.
'There are two types of UV light,' explains consultant dermatologist Dr Stefanie Williams. 'UVB rays cause burning and skin cancer, UVA rays cause wrinkles.' UVA rays are still present on dull days and penetrate cloud and glass. SPF numbers refer to a sunscreen's ability to protect against UVB only, so you're only protected from UVA if it's stated on the bottle. Bioterm Lait Solaire SPF15, £16.50, contains UVB and UVA protection.
'If you're pale, you can begin your holiday with SPF50 and then wean yourself ont SPF30,' says Dr Meredith. Decleor Protective Hydrating Milk SPF30, £23, boots skin's natural defences- but the truth is that some skins will never tan. 'Redheads should not sunbathe,' warns dermatologist Dr Nicholas Lowe. 'They should avoid sitting in the sun without protective clothing and always use at least an SPF30.'
Imedeen Tan Optimizer capsules, £40.80 for 60, from Boots, help boost the skin's natural tanning mechanism.
'In women, skin cancer is most commonly found on the legs because they rarely apply sunscreen to their lower halves,' says Dr Jen Jones. Ambre Solaire SPF30+ Golden Protect Oil, £14.29, gives legs a glossy glow as well as protection.
Set your phone's alarm to go off every two hours so you know when to reapply your sunscreen. If you're swimming or working out, reapply straight afterwards.
After you're 30, tanning takes longer as the skin's natural melanin drops by 20 per cent. Thalgo Bronzing Activator lotion, £24.50, is formulated to stimulate melanin production.