Holiday planning

How to protect your skin on holiday

Photo of Steph MarinkovicPhoto of Steph Marinkovic
By Steph Marinkovic

12 July 20195 min read

A close up picture of a mother spraying her child with suncream blue spf bottle in the sun

Whether you seek out the sun or stick to the shade, looking after your skin is essential – especially while you’re away on your summer holidays. We’re not just talking about nasty sunburns dampening your trip. Time spent unprotected in the sun can do irreversible damage to your skin, and even cause skin cancer.

It’s not all doom, gloom and fretting over SPFs, though. We spoke to the experts at the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) to lay out exactly what we need to know about holiday skin care.

Sunscreen 101: What is SPF and UVA rating?

It’s our first port of call when it comes to sun protection but there’s a little more to sunscreen than just asking a mate to “do my back”.

Holly Barber of BAD stresses that picking up the right sunscreen is paramount.

“[We] recommend that you choose sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 and a 4- or 5-star UVA rating,” she says. “It’s also important to choose one that you will want to reapply regularly.”

Though sunscreen labelling has come under fire for looking more like an auto-generated one-time-use password than a simple way of measuring sun protection, understanding the ratings is relatively simple.

SPF (sun protection factor) protects you from UVB radiation – that’s the rays that cause you to burn – while the UVA star rating tackles the more harmful ultraviolet A rays associated with sun-related wrinkles, ageing of the skin and DNA damage (that can lead to skin cancer).

How to apply sunscreen correctly

It is all too common for people to apply sunscreen too thinly and miss patches of skin. Getting it right isn’t all that tricky though, and you should start to apply around 30 minutes before spending time in the sun.

Holly shares a simple formula to remember when applying your sunscreen.

“As a guide when using lotions, the very minimum you should apply is at least six full teaspoons (approximately 36 grams) to cover the body of an average adult,” she explains.

“This is more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm and the face/neck (including ears), and just over one teaspoon to each leg, front of body and back of body.”

Proper use of sunscreen also means reapplying at least every two hours, and immediately after swimming, sweating or towel drying.

“The combination of going for a quick swim and towel drying can remove a large amount of your sunscreen, therefore it’s always important to reapply sunscreen straight after going for a swim,” Holly adds.

It’s worth noting that sunscreens can no longer claim to be waterproof and even so-called ‘water-resistant’ brands will need to be reapplied just as often as a non-water-resistant type.

Sunscreen for different complexions

Though different types of skin react to sun exposure differently, everyone who plans to spend a long time in the sun should be thinking about protecting their skin (it’s our largest organ, after all).

Dermatologists generally categorise skin into one of six types, from one, which is fair skin that burns easily, to six, darker brown skin that does not. You can check your skin type on BAD’s ‘Skindex’ here.

“Pale skin can burn in less than 15 minutes in strong sunshine,” Holly warns. “But in the UK, sun protection to avoid sunburn isn’t likely to be routinely required in people with darker skin types, especially very dark brown skin.”

Only in intense or prolonged sun exposure will darker complexions require sunscreen and you should check the UV forecast (most weather apps should have this, or you can check the Met Office) if you’re unsure. There is an important exception to this advice, however.

“Sun protection is important if you have a skin condition, such as photosensitivity, vitiligo or lupus,” says Holly. “[It’s also important if] you have a high risk of skin cancer, especially if you are taking immunosuppressive treatments (including organ transplant recipients) or if you are genetically pre-disposed to skin cancer.”

People with many moles (50+) should be extra careful, too, as 30% of melanomas develop in existing moles.

Other ways to stay safe

Reapplying sunscreen regulalrly will keep your skin happier but sizzling in the sun all day, even with sunscreen, is far from recommended. To enjoy the heat a little more safely, make sure you pack a wide-brimmed hat, a pair of sunglasses, a long-sleeved shirt and trousers and a source of shade, like a beach umbrella.

However, not all clothing and shades are created equal, explains Holly, who stresses that UV protective sunglasses are important in sun protection.

“Holding fabric up to the light to see how much shines through can help you assess how much it will protect your skin,” says Holly, adding that the tighter the weave, the better protection you’ll get.

It’s also recommended to avoid the sun when it’s at its strongest, generally between 11am and 3pm, especially between spring and autumn.

Sunburn care tips

If you’ve slipped up and are already looking a little pink, there a few ways to soothe the sting of a sunburn.

“Soothing moisturisers, such as calamine lotion, can help ease the pain of skin that is already sunburnt,” advises Holly. “Anti-inflammatories can also help with the pain and redness.”

She adds that there’s no undoing the damage of sunburn.

“It’s best to remember that prevention is better than a cure, because when it comes to sunburn the ‘cure’ will only do so much, and the damage done to the skin can’t be reversed.”

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