By Helen Clemson
Six weeks before a got married I was diagnosed with a basal cell carcinoma on my neck. I was advised to have it removed immediately – and it required plastic surgery – and there I was walking down the aisle with a nude micropore plaster on my skin. Wake up call! While the least risky type of skin cancer and totally curable if caught early, my BCC taught me this: whatever I thought I knew about sunscreen application was probably wrong. So here are my golden rules:
- There is no such thing as “just a little bit of safe unprotected sun exposure.” This pearl of wisdom comes for dermatologist Dr. Dagmar Whitaker who likens it to “just a little bit of safe unprotected sex.” You always use a condom, right? Think about it that way and you realise harmful UV rays that cause damage to your skin’s DNA (over time this is what leads to skin cancer) always need a layer of sunscreen between them and your precious skin.
- Use a shot glass as your guide for the amount you need to apply to your skin to be properly covered, and not the palm of your hand! But first, let’s do the maths: to achieve the SPF (that protects against the sun’s UVB radiation) reflected on a bottle of sunscreen, you should use approximately two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. In practice, this means applying the equivalent of a shot glass per area (i.e. your face and your torso and your leg and so on). If you’re using a spray, apply until you see an even sheen.
- Reapply, reapply and reapply some more. And always spread on sunscreen before you go out into the sun (I do this 30 minutes before I go outside). In other words, don’t wait until you’re on the beach (or even until you’re driving in the car). No sunscreen is waterproof, and water-resistant formulas should keep you protected as you swim but you still need to reapply after getting out of the water, when perspiring and after towel drying. I usually reapply every two hours (if I’m not swimming) but I’d say you need to be more vigilant if you have a very pale skin tone that burns easily. If you are taking a dip, invest in a water- resistant a stick screen that makes application easy on sun-sensitive areas like your ears and nose (SPF 50) that includes an ingredients like avobenzone or zinc oxide to provide strong protection against the full range of UVA rays.
I get easily irritated when people say “ah, I can’t wait to get a summer tan, I just feel so much healthier when I’m bronzed.” There’s no such thing as a “healthy” tan folks. That’s another Dr. Whitaker quote. With SA being only second to UV exposure in terms of the highest rating globally, there’s nothing about tanning that’s good for you (first prize goes to Australia by the way). If you simply must suntan – or if you know you’re going to be sun exposed – here’s my guide to great sunscreens for any situation and all skin types.
For the Body
Nivea Sun Protect & Refresh SPF 50 Refreshing Sun Spray (R184.95 -Clicks). I hate summer because I really feel the heat, so a sunscreen with skin cooling ingredients like menthol and ethanol in the formula means my body feels non-tacky (often a side effect on sunscreen) and cooled down.
Dermalogica Protection 50 Sport SPF 50 (R595). Water resistant for up to 40 minutes, I use this product when I am swimming in the sea because it’s high factor Oleosome microspheres help enhance SPF performance and counteract moisture loss triggered by extended daylight exposure.
Palmer’s Eventone Suncare Cocoa Butter Sheer Spray SPF50 (R184.95 – Dis-chem). This spray on body screen has a wonderful cooling effect, and contains active ingredients and natural moisturizers like Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter and coconut oil that protect skin from the damaging effects of sun. The formula also helps you keep your skin tone even – that means guarding against dark spots, uneven skin tone and premature aging. Score!
For The Face
Avene Very High Protection Dry Touch SPF 50 (R230 – Clicks) – Try this beauty out if you have sensitive skin that’s normal to combination – and bonus, it’s also water-resistant.
Eucerin Sun Fluid Face Anti-Age SPF50 (R219.95 – Dis-Chem). Want to add another anti-aging product to your arsenal? This is a great choice because it’s suited to all skin types and it helps visibly reduce the signs of photo-ageing which really makes skin look mature before it’s time.
Nimue Sun-C Tinted SPF 40 (R459). The lovechild of a sunscreen and a light-coverage tinted cream – what could be better than that?
If You Have Sensitive Skin
If this is your skin type, always use products that have zero alcohol in the formula and that are fragrance free too. Soothing ingredients like aloe vera (it’s a renowned calming botanical) can also help chill out easily irritated skin.
Eucerin Sun Lotion Extra Light SPF 50+ (R205 – Clicks). Ultra-light and fast absorbing, there’s no greasy feel after application, so those who can’t handle uber rich cream or sticky sprays will love this. Anti-oxidant protection comes in the form of licorice extract for boosting the protection that those with sun sensitive skins need.
La Roche – Posey Anthelios XL 50+ Lotion (R250 – www.dermastore.co.za). Sensitivity and dry skin often go hand-in-hand. So if that’s your skin, give this sunscreen a spin.
BioNike Defence Sun 50+ Sun Protection (R149.95 at Dis-Chem). My friend has red hair and freckles and burns faster than you can say summer. I’m buying this for her right now!
BioDerma Cicabio SPF 50 Soothing Repairing Care Damaged Skin Exposed to the Sun (R169.95 at Dis-Chem). A long fan of BioDerma, I’ve switched to this product now I’m in my mid thirties. Why? The anti-aging benefits like skin reconstruction and pigmentation control make me so darn happy.
La Roche – Posay Anthelios XL 50+ Ultra-Light Tinted Fluid (R230 – www.dermastore.co.za). No parabens, no perfume, and tested under dermatological control, this sun protector was made for sensitive skin types – plus you can use it after skin procedures when you need to be extra cautious about UV exposure.
Bioderma Photoderm Tinted Protective Cream SPF 50 (R218.95 at Dis-Chem). In summer I often swap stand alone sunscreen and foundation for a tinted sunscreen, especially on weekends. If you don’t need to cover up blemished skin, I’d advise you do the same and always, always go for an SPF 50, even if you’re just receiving sun while driving. In other words, coincidental sun exposure.
Babies & Children
On my nine month old I don’t use products with chemical screens, but rather ones with physical blockers like zinc oxide. I do this because personally I don’t want product ingredients to penetrate through her skin and absorb into her bloodstream – I can’t phone the pediatrician every time I use a new baby product on her, so I’d rather be safe than sorry. She’s very young still so I’m being ultra safe (I don’t advise much sun exposure at this tender age anyway), but for older kids I know a lot of moms who go the non-natural, non-vegetarian route and it’s one hundred percent fine. Their kids are screened up and sun safe, and that’s the main thing.
BioNike Defence Sun Baby & Kid Fluid Lotion (R130 – Dis-Chem). This product is free from many things moms may want to keep little babies skin free from, namely nickel (so often nickel causes contact dermatitis), fragrance and preservatives. And interestingly, it’s gluten free too.
Avene Eau Thermale Very High Protection Spray children SPF50 (R230 – Clicks). As my daughter gets older, I’m so trying this. And it’s perfect for young delicate skin that’s highly sensitive to sun exposure and is silicone and paraben free.
Oh Lief Natural Sunscreen SPF 30 for body (R249). My bub has had this CANCA approved sunscreen slathered on her little legs every time we’ve been for a walk in the pram and I’m very impressed with its efficacy. It’s a physical block, so no chemicals are absorbed into her bloodstream.
Everyday Sunscreens For The Face
Sunscreen, like moisturiser, should be used every day (over your moisturiser before foundation) year round. Is a factor 30 enough people ask me? To be honest, I always recommend SPF 50 (especially in our country) for the very simple reason that often we don’t apply enough and after painstakingly putting on make up, are we really going to reapply? Er, no.
Dermalogica Age Smart Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF 50 (R1, 190). Multi-purpose products make my heart beat a little faster. Use this if you essentially need a hydrating facial moisturiser plus a high factor sunscreen with super anti-aging defense mechanisms.
The Body Shop Skin Defence Multi-Protection Essence SPF50 (R220). Many women argue that stand-alone sunscreen after moisturiser makes their skin feel totally greased up. If that’s you, reach for this feather-light milk-to-water essence that’s packed with sun protection fueling antioxidants.
SkinCeuticals Ultra Facial Defense SPF 50+ (R465 www.dermastore.co.za). Hello lover! I adore this product because there isn’t a telltale sign that I’ve actually applied sunscreen, in other words, no white film nor streaks. And it gives skin long-lasting hydration.
Sunscreens For Oily Skin
Heliocare Advanced Gel SPF50 Fernblock (R320 – Dis-Chem). For skins prone to excess oil production it’s essential that you pick a sunscreen that says non-comedogenic on the packaging, like this one. That means it the formula won’t block your pores causing buildup that lead to breakouts.
Vichy Ideal Soleil Bronze SPF 50 Tan Optimizing Hydrating Face Gel-fluid (R185 at Dis-Chem & Clicks). Heavy textured products with nourishing oils are all the rage, but not if you have an oily skin type. Anything too rich or too thick will simply exacerbate oiliness, so texture-wise gels, fluids or extremely light lotions are the best choices.
Off you slog to work and only dream of walking up the mountain or lazing by the pool. Er, you still need sunscreen! Use Environ RAD SPF15 (R224 – salons) – a great basic. Slather on religiously even if you’re tucked away in your office cubicle day in and day out. This screen might only have an SPF of 15, but it’s also laced with antioxidants, sun absorbers and reflectors that work in combo to protect skin from the sun.
For Lips & Other Targeted Areas
Labello Sun Protect SPF30 (R21.95 at Dis-Chem). I’ve been talking skin, skin, skin ad nauseum, but what about lips?! They too need UVA and UVB protection and it could be dire to leave them unprotected (just ask my husband, he had skin cancer removed from his bottom lip in his 20’s). This lip sunscreen balm immediately protects your pout for UV rays and gives it a dose of hydration too thanks to sunflower extract.
Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream Targeted Sun Defense Stick SPF 50 (R195). Yay for this! It’s oil-free, water and sweat resistant. Going skiing this holiday season? I wish! Whether you’re hitting the slopes or on the beach, this stick is a must to rub quickly onto areas that get burnt so easily likes ears, nose and the back of your neck.