Photoprotection – or the use of regular sunscreen – is encouraged by doctors and dermatologists because they are aware that our outdoor work and lifestyles mean that complete sun avoidance is not possible.

What is photoprotection?

  1. Why do we need photoprotection? Photoprotection is required to reduce ultraviolet (UV) radiation-induced skin damage, photo-ageing and skin cancers. Photoprotection includes sunscreens, clothing, hats and sunglasses.
  2. What is UV radiation? UV radiation affects the skin by causing ageing, sunburns, precancerous lesions, cancerous lesions and immunosuppression. There are 3 types of UVA radiation: UVC, UVB and UVA. UVA is associated with ageing and pigmentation, it produces free radical oxygen species, indirectly damaging DNA. UVB causes sunburn and DNA damage associated with non-melanoma skin cancers.
  3. What is SPF? SPF stands for sun protection factor and indicates the degree of sunburn protection given by sunscreens. It is a primary measure of UVB and to a lesser extent UVA. For a sun cream to be effective it needs to be applied liberally and 20 minutes before going outdoors.
  4. What type of sunscreen should I use? A broad-spectrum sunscreen, which involves UVA and UVB coverage, providing water resistance and a high sun-protection factor (SPF 30 or 50) should be used. Included in many sunscreens are antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and green tea polyphenols which can give additive protective effects. You may need to change the type of sunscreen you use according to what activity you are planning to do.
  5. How should I apply sunscreen? Apply 20 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply after 2 hours, after sweating or swimming. An adult requires 30 ml /body (2 tablespoons), with a teaspoon (5ml) used on the face, head and neck. For children the requirements vary according to size for example; 3 years: 10 ml (2 teaspoons), 7 years: 15 ml (3 teaspoons), 10 years: 20 ml (4teaspoons)
  6. Is it ok for babies to wear sunscreen? It is safe and recommended to use sunscreen in babies over 6 months. The best way to ensure babies and children are protected is to provide as much shade as possible, use protective clothing, hats and sunglasses. Physical sunscreens are less likely to irritate sensitive skin and eyes.

It is recommended that parents of babies under 6 months should consult a doctor before sunscreen use. This is due to the lack of development of metabolism and excretion of the chemically absorbed agents within sunscreen. If sunscreen is necessary, it should be limited and infrequently used on sun-exposed regions only.

For more advice on photoprotection, arrange a consultation with Dr Kara Heelan at either the Chelsea Outpatient Centre (020 3494 4024) or Sydney Street Outpatients & Diagnostic Centre (020 3733 9029).