The sun protection facts you thought you knew (but probably didn't)

Our suncare expert tackles your top misconceptions – from eye protection under sunglasses to when to apply sunblock
Photography by John Rowley

We’re a nation of suncare novices. While most of us know we need to wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses and find shade and cover up when the sun is at its peak (11am-3pm), there are still misconceptions. Clare O’Connor, Innovation R&D Manager Skin Science at Boots, gets us up to speed.

1. My make-up has an SPF, so that’s all I need, right?

Don’t be fooled. ‘Most of us don’t apply make-up thick enough to achieve sufficient protection,’ says Clare. (FYI, for an adult, that’s two teaspoons for head, arms and neck and two tablespoons for your body, if you’re wearing a swimsuit.) ‘Plus, make-up or moisturiser doesn’t always offer broad-spectrum coverage for UVB and UVA rays,’ she adds. ‘If you’re outside for more than 20 minutes a day, I suggest an SPF30+ sunscreen with five-star UVA protection.’

Our pick: You can apply light, non-sticky La Roche-Posay Anthelios Sunscreen Face Mist SPF50, £14/1,400 points (75ml), under or over make-up.

2. With sunnies, I can skip sunscreen around my eyes

‘There will be gaps around glasses where UV rays sneak in,’ warns Clare. ‘Instead of using a liquid sunscreen that could run into your eyes, try a sun stick made from waxy ingredients.’ And keep rocking those shades. ‘Always wear them in the sun, as eyes are so easily damaged by UV rays,’ Clare advises. And that applies even in the car, because sun rays can penetrate glass.

Our pick: No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Advanced Sun Protection Stick SPF50, £12/1,200 points, is a handy way to protect the eye area.

3. I’ve swapped my normal SPF15 for SPF30, so now I can spend longer in the sun

Always choose SPF appropriate for your skin type – reapplying won’t allow you to extend your time in the sun if you have chosen protection that’s too low. SPF30 is twice as effective as SPF15 at shielding skin from the burning effects of the sun. However, the extra protection doesn’t mean you can spend more time in the sun. And remember, all sunscreens need to be reapplied every two hours, or after you’ve been swimming or sweating.

Our pick: Hawaiian Tropic Satin Protection Sun Lotion, £6/600 points (100ml), offers SPF30 and a lush coconut scent.

4. I’m wearing a summer T-shirt and maxi skirt, so no need for sunscreen, too?

Sorry to break it to you: light-coloured, lightweight and loosely woven summer fabrics don’t offer much protection (a white T-shirt has an average ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of just 7, and won’t safeguard at all once it’s wet). The easiest way to test whether or not a fabric can protect your skin is to hold it up to the light. If you can see through it, then UV radiation can penetrate both it and your skin. ‘So apply plenty of product and let it dry before dressing and heading out,’ Clare recommends.

Our pick: Soltan Quick Dry Protect Lotion SPF30, £6.50/650 points (200ml), dries fast, so clothes and sand won’t stick to you. Plus, it has a top-notch, five-star UVA rating.

5. I only apply my sunscreen when I get to the beach

‘While most sunscreens should protect you from UV light immediately, it’s much more effective to apply it evenly and liberally ahead of being in sunlight,’ says Clare. ‘If it isn’t dry before you get dressed or hit the pool or beach, the protection will rub off and may not have formed a water-resistant shield. If you apply it when you’re at your destination, you also run the risk of being in the sun for a chunk of time without any protection at all.’

Our pick: Eucerin Sun Lotion Extra Light SPF30, £18.50/1,850 points (150ml), is not only water-resistant, but it also offers broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) sun protection.

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Time-saving suncare

If you’re all about speedy SPF, good news: P20’s continuous spray sunscreen now comes in SPF50. Riemann P20 Seriously Reliable Suncare SPF50, £24.95 (150ml), has a multi-angle spray that’s great for quick, effective coverage – even in those hard-to-reach areas – and provides highly water-resistant protection for up to 10 hours*. Spritz generously, 15 minutes before heading out.