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Sun Protection 101: How To Keep Your Skin Safe In The Sun

Don’t be fooled by that gorgeous ball of fire in the sky. Sure, it makes you feel instantly happier and healthier. But word up, it’s hell on your skin.

The sun and your skin have a real love-hate relationship. On the surface, the sun makes your skin feel warm and glowing. But there’s a much darker side of the sun – if you’ll pardon the paradox.

The center of our entire solar system and the closest star to the Earth, the sun is a veritable fire ball of hot, glowing gases. Without it, we would not survive. However, as important as the sun’s rays are for fueling life as we know it, they’re also responsible for a massive amount of damage to your skin (as well as your eyes, health and immune system but that’s whole different story for another day).

Of course you know you need to protect your skin from the sun. But do you really understand why and, be honest, do you actually do it on the reg? Well, here are ten important facts about sun protection that will hopefully nudge you to get ahead of the sun damage game. Because, frankly, it’s no game at all…

1. Sun damage is all about UV radiation.

Sunlight is split into various forms of energy. It’s called the electromagnetic spectrum if you want to get technical, and it includes ultraviolet (UV) radiation, among others. UV is not the stuff you see (that’s called visible light), nor does it create heat (that’s infrared), however, it’s extremely powerful and the absolute devil when it comes to the health of your skin. It generates premature aging (think dark spots, wrinkles, sagging and leathery skin) and is believed to be one of the biggest causes of skin cancer.

2. Then there are your ABCs.

UV radiation is split into three different types: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC rays are the shortest and, thanks to the ozone, don’t reach the Earth’s surface or your skin. So, you really just need to be concerned about the As and the Bs.

UVA rays have the longest wavelength and account for around 95 percent of all UV radiation that gets through the ozone. Because of their longer length, UVA rays are able to penetrate through clouds and even glass, which means that a) they hit your skin all year round and b) they can even get you if you’re inside, sat next to a window. UVA rays go deep into your skin where they produce free radicals, break down collagen and elastin and age you up in no time.

UVB rays, on the other hand, are slightly shorter in wavelength and penetrate only the uppermost layers of your skin. They’re still bad news, though, damaging the cells at a surface level, and causing redness and sunburn.

Confused as to how to possibly remember all this? Simple: think UVA for aging and UVB for burning. Both, consequently, play their part in damaging DNA and causing skin cancer.

3. UVA is present ALL YEAR ROUND.

While UVB rays are more prevalent in summer, and especially during the middle of the day when the sun is at its peak, UVA rays stay pretty constant all year long. Experts agree that even on gloomy days, around 80 percent of the sun’s UVA rays still pass right through those clouds. This means that your risk of UVA skin damage never really goes away.

4. Newsflash: SPF only protects you from UVB radiation.

The SPF rating you see on your sunscreen is a great idea of how much protection it offers you from sun damage. But it really only concerns UVB radiation and burning, not UVA and its consequent effects on premature aging. So, how can you ensure you get the full monty? Well, the most important phrase you need to know and look out for is ‘broad spectrum'.

Broad spectrum means that a formulation has been tested to protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays – aka, a broad spectrum of radiation. This was historically a very gray area but in 2011, the FDA issued a new ruling for sunscreen labels which meant that in order for a product to be labeled ‘broad spectrum’ it had to offer UVA protection that was proportional to its UVB protection. This means a higher SPF equates to higher UVA protection as well as higher UVB protection, which makes it much easier for you to know what you're buying into. 

5. Group hugs for mineral sunscreens which block both UVA & UVB radiation.

Ingredients in sunscreens can be split into two categories: chemical and mineral. Chemical ingredients like oxybenone and octinoxate have been under great scrutiny recently and are continually being studied for their potential negative effects on the environment and your health. In fact, no chemical sunscreens are currently proposed to be safe and effective by the FDA. The only two are mineral ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide form a physical, protective barrier on your skin which reflects the sun’s rays away from the surface. They provide instant protection from the sun and not only that, but they protect your skin from both UVA and UVB radiation. Chemical sunscreen ingredients can’t always boast such abilities, which is why our SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen has been formulated with non-nano zinc oxide – in our opinion, it’s the ultimate defense against sun damage.

6. 30 is the magic number.

When it comes to the best SPF, most experts agree that 15 is as low as you should go. SPF 15 blocks out roughly 93 percent of the sun’s UV rays when applied thoroughly and generously – we’ll come to that in a bit.

As you get higher than SPF 15, your levels of protection increase minimally, but significantly. We believe SPF 30 is the sweet spot (especially when it comes to the fragile skin on your face), because this blocks around 97 percent of UV radiation.

7. In the case of sunscreen application, more is always more.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, most people don’t apply enough sunscreen, which means the level of protection promised on your bottle isn’t what you’ll get. Big mistake. To protect your skin the way it deserves, apply about a nickel-sized amount to your face and a good two tablespoons for the rest of your body – if it’s not hidden underneath clothes, of course.

8. Sunscreen should be the final step in your routine.

It can be confusing to know when to apply all the products in your skincare routine, but sunscreen must always be last. This way, it won’t interfere with or block out the ingredients in your moisturizer, but will sit nicely on top to block out the stuff it’s supposed to – in other words, the sun.

9. The longer you’re in the sun, the more often you need to reapply.

Most sunscreen labels tell you to reapply at least every two hours; more often if you’re swimming, sweating, sunbathing etc. This is super important because the harder your sunscreen has to work, the quicker it will lose its powers.

But what about for everyday use when you’re either sitting at your desk, or just going about your normal life? Do you really need to cleanse your face and reapply your facial SPF every two hours in these instances? In all honesty, this is up to you and a little bit of common sense. If you’re picnicking in the park all day long, then yes, you should definitely reapply regularly. But if you’re working inside, away from a window and only going outside to grab some lunch or a coffee then your sun exposure will be limited, so a generous morning application should do the job.

10. Sunscreen is awesome… but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

The best way to protect your skin from sun damage, aging and skin cancer is to go for a multi-pronged approach that shields you from all angles. Our top sun safety rules are:

  • Stay out of the midday sun and search out the shade as much as possible – especially on scorching hot days.
  • Wear sun-protective, long-sleeved clothing as well as cute sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Invest in some UV protective film to fix to the windows around your house. This is especially important if you sit at a desk all day and your desk happens to face a window.
  • Apply an SPF 30 sunscreen to all exposed areas of your skin every morning. Our new SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen is ideal because it’s light enough for everyday use, yet packs a real punch to protect your skin from UVA and UVB radiation.
  • Double up your sun-battling skincare regimen by including antioxidants like vitamin C in your morning routine. Vitamin C not only helps mop up skin-damaging free radicals, but it’s also been proven to help maximize the powers of your sunscreen, giving you added protection. Our sunscreen includes its own shot of vitamin C but you can up the ante by applying Vitamin C Serum every morning after cleansing and before moisturizing.

    About Georgia Gould
    Georgia is an award-winning beauty writer who has been in the business for over 20 years. British-born, she began her career as a magazine beauty editor in London before moving to San Francisco, CA in 2012 where she now continues her love as a freelance writer and editor. As well as her editorial work, Georgia has created content for many high-profile beauty brands, including Clarins, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, Simple and TRESemmé. Her passions include retinol (obviously), golfing, skiing and walking her beloved Schnauzer, Dave.