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Image of sun cream in the shape of the sun on a woman shoulder

Should I be using makeup that gives sun protection?

We're all aware of the need to protect our skin from the sun to reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature ageing - but how far do you need to go?

Many skincare products, including moisturisers and make up such as foundation and tinted moisturisers, now contain sun protection, so you might be wondering if you should be using these or not? While being out in the sun can make you feel good and helps your body produce vitamin D, too much exposure can damage your skin.

UVB rays cause sunburn and are linked with malignant melanomas, the most serious form of skin cancer, while UVA rays are responsible for ageing signs, including wrinkles and pigmentation patches, as well as other types of skin cancer.

So how much protection do you need?

Skin ageing and sunlight

UVA rays penetrate deep into your skin and damage the skin's support structure (collagen and elastin). This contributes to lines and wrinkles.

It's important to protect your skin from sunlight, but while you can cover your body with clothing, your face is always exposed. Some experts say sunscreens should contain a minimum SPF of 15 and UVA rating of four stars. But the British Association of Dermatologists goes further and says a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and a UVA rating of four or five stars offers a good standard of sun protection, as well as staying in the shade and covering up with clothing.

In strong sunlight, apply sunscreen daily to your face under make up. It's a good idea to choose a moisturiser, foundation or tinted moisturiser, which also contains sun protection. However, if you are using these alone, instead of a separate sunscreen, make sure they have an SPF15 or higher rating and ideally four-star UVA protection too (some cosmetic products don't have UVA protection - so check).

Top sun protection tips

As well as wearing sun protection, protect yourself further by following these tips.

  • Spend time in the shade when the sun is hottest - between 11am and 3pm.
  • Cover up with a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and clothing.
  • Make sure you apply enough sunscreen to get full protection and re-apply every two hours when out in the sun.

Skin cancer and the sun

Sun damage is strongly linked with skin cancer. There are 72,100 cases of non-melanoma skin cancers in the UK each year, making it the second most common type of cancer. About 14,500 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year, the most serious form of skin cancer, and over the last decade this number has increased by almost half.

Melanoma is the second most common cancer in the under fifties. Sunburn can double your risk of developing melanoma. People with fair skin, fair or red hair, and lots of freckles or moles have a higher risk.

The most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell cancers. Again, sun exposure is the main cause.

Using sunscreen to protect exposed skin is a good way to prevent sun damage. However, it's important not to use it as a way of spending longer in the sunshine. Sunscreens can't give 100 per cent protection and their effectiveness depends on how much and how often they are applied. Dermatologists say most people don't apply enough.

What to look for in a sunscreen

There are two types of sunscreen, physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens (also known as inorganic filters), contain mineral pigments such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These act as a mirror and reflect UV rays away from your skin. Chemical sunscreens (also known as organic filters), absorb UV light, mopping up the rays with a sponge-like action.

Look for a sunscreen that is 'photo-stable', which means its filters are not broken down in strong sunlight.

As discussed above, all sunscreens, whether in creams or make up, have an SPF to show the level of protection given from UVB rays. The British Association of Dermatologists recommend we all use at least SPF30, although others suggest SPF15 as a minimum.

Pick a sunscreen with a UVA star rating of at least four to protect skin from ageing UVA rays.

What to look for in SPF cosmetics

Always look for SPF15 plus and UVA four-star rating in moisturiser or foundation, especially if you're not using a separate sunscreen underneath. Fewer cosmetic products have SPF30 or higher protection compared to sunscreens.

Experts point out though that these products are easier to wipe or rub off though so may not give you enough protection if you are out in the sun for a long time and a sunscreen may be better in those situations.

Jo Waters is a health writer who has contributed to a variety of newspapers and magazines including the Daily Mail, Mirror, Nurture Magazine and the Express.

See more of Jo Waters' work.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.