Understand what your sun protection means

We all know that we need to protect our skin from the sun. But it can get confusing knowing what’s what when it comes to suncare: UVA, UVB, SPF – what does it all mean? If you’re unsure, it could mean you’re not getting the level of protection your skin needs. Take a look at our easy guide to understanding sun protection to help you stay safe throughout the summer months.

What’s the difference between UVA & UVB rays?

The sun emits two types of ultraviolet rays that are damaging to the skin. UVA and UVB rays both cause different types of damage, and not all sun creams protect against them in the same way, so it’s important to know the difference between the two, and what they’re responsible for.

UVA rays

These are present at all times during daylight hours, and while you might not immediately see their effects, they’re very powerful – they can penetrate clouds and even glass. They penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB to cause long-term damage (including all types of skin cancer) and play a major part in the ageing process, such as causing wrinkles, sun spots and leathery skin.

UVB rays

These are the rays that are mostly responsible for sunburn and skin reddening. They don’t penetrate as deeply as UVA rays, but they’re just as damaging. They play a large part in the development of skin cancers including melanoma.

What are UVA star ratings?

Many forms of sun protection carry a UVA star rating on the bottle – Boots developed this rating system in 1992, and it was Europe’s first measurement system for UVA protection. Ranging from 0 to 5, this rating indicates the percentage of UVA radiation that’s absorbed by that particular sun protection, compared to UVB. The higher the star rating, the better the protection against UVA rays. The lowest recommended star rating for UVA protection is 4.

The entire Soltan range offers 5 star UVA protection, the highest rating available.

What is SPF and how does it work?

This stands for ‘sun protection factor’, and indicates the level of protection a sun cream provides against burning rays. More specifically, it refers to how well the product reduces the burning effect of the sun on your skin. For instance, if you usually begin to burn after 10 minutes in the sun, applying an SPF 15 sunscreen will protect you for 15 times longer than that, meaning you are protected for up to 150 minutes. Products need to be applied every two hours and after being in water to help maintain protection, and if you’re intending to spend longer in the sun then you should choose a higher SPF to begin with.

SPFs range from 2 to 50+, with 50+ offering the most protection against UVB.

What SPF should I be using?

It’s generally recommended that you use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15, along with a UVA rating of 4 or 5 stars.

Whatever type of sun protection you use, it’s important to reapply generously (especially after being in the water), every two hours or as often as the product recommends to help you stay protected throughout the day.