Nine ways to make sure your suncream protects you

If you’re bemused by the array of sunscreen products on the shelves, you’re far from alone. Here’s our handy guide to staying protected this summer.

1. Which SPF?

Even if you grew up in the days when factor 15 was only for the weak (and the bravest basted themselves in undiluted oil), it’s time to get the message: the British Association of Dermatologists advises a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Quite apart from the risk of skin cancer – which is on the rise and now accounting for the fifth most common cancer in the UK – burning is not a good look.

2. Look at the stars

There are two types of ultraviolet radiation from the sun, UVA and UVB. You need to be protected against both. UVB is the type that’ll burn you, but UVA is linked to skin cancer – and to wrinkles. The SPF rating indicates the level of UVB, so you also need to look at the ‘star rating’ on most bottles. If it’s showing four to five stars, it’s also offering a high level of protection from UVA rays.

3. Splash it on 

You also need to use enough sunscreen to protect you! The SPFs tested in the lab are usually slathered on in much higher quantities than in real life. Aim for the equivalent of two teaspoons of sunscreen if you're just covering your head, arms and neck, and two tablespoons if you're in a swimsuit – so get a good quantity on bare legs too, and don’t forget the back of your neck, your ears, any bald spots…

4. Ignore the clouds

Yes, you can burn on a grey day – and you can certainly raise your risk of skin cancer, since a significant proportion of ultraviolet light penetrates cloud cover.

5. How often should you reapply sun cream? 

A high factor isn’t a day-long guarantee (and the ‘once a day’ sunscreens aren’t to be relied on, research suggests). The advice is to slap on another layer every two hours or so (more if washed off).

6. Shop around 

If you’re going to stick to any regime, you need to like it, and sunscreen is no exception. There’s a lot of choice out there, from dry to creamy to watery textures. You may well find you like different products for face and body – and since you’re going to get through a lot of it, you may as well choose both.

7. Check the dates 

Like any other product, sunscreen can expire – usually after about three years – and one in three of us never checks. You can dig out last year’s to tide you over for a little while, but keep using it up!

8. Fake it till you make it 

The temptation to get ‘just a bit of colour’ has lured many of us into risky sunscreen use, however well we know the rules. Self-tan is now hugely improved from its orange origins. However, don’t use a sunbed (they’re far more dangerous than the sun itself, raising your skin cancer risk by up to 20%). And remember that you haven’t got a ‘real’ tan, and still need to cream up.

9. Back up 

Finally, always remember that sunscreen isn’t the only protection you should be using. Stay in the shade between 11am and 3pm, keep vulnerable areas covered and invest in a hat and sunglasses (check for the European Standard 'CE' Mark, UV 400 or British Standard Mark).