FAQ's about sunscreen and tanning
What does SPF mean and how does it work?
SPF stands for 'Sun Protection Factor'. It is a scientific factor that you can use to understand how long you can stay in the sun without burning when wearing sun screen. If, for example you can stay in the sun for ten minutes without burning (and with no sun protection) if you apply SPF15 you can theoretically stay in the sun 15x longer. However, regardless of the factor you are wearing you must reapply every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or sweating in order to stay protected.
A sunscreen that has a higher SPF factor will provide a higher level of protection.
Types of sunscreen
There are 2 types of sunscreen - those that use chemical filters and those that provide a physical barrier. The chemical filter sunscreens are easy to apply and work by absorbing the UV rays as they reach the skin. The physcial blocker sunscreens scatter or reflect UV rays. Most commonly they use zinc oxide andd titanium dioxide to do this. If you are using a chemical filter (the most common sunscreen) don't forget to apply it 15-20 minutes prior to sun exposure to ensure it is dry and has been absorbed.
I have pale skin - can I stilll get a tan?
Any change in your skin colour from the sun is actually a sign of damage. It is your skin trying to protect itself and while, in theory, browner skin has a natural SPF factor, in reality it is only slight. Pale skin also has less melatonin in it (the pigment that makes skin darken) so if you are very fair you will only burn and not tan.
While some exposure to the sun is healthy - and produces vital Vitamin D in our bodies, the bottom line is that tanning is not safe. If you really want the sunkissed look, try one of the many self tanners on the market.
If I apply SPF15 and then SPF30 do I have more coverage?
Unfortunately it doesn't work like this! Different sunscreens have different chemicals and it is possible that one may interfere with the other so you are safer if you just use one and reapply regulalry and try and stay out of the sun where possible.
I have dug out last year's sunscreen - it will be OK won't it?
Sunscreen does become less effective over time - check the expiry date on your bottle and if in doubt replace it.