Sunscreens can be a confusing part of the holiday at the best of times. SPF, UVA, UVB, these seemingly endless acronyms are enough to induce what we've coined beach bewilderment. So we went straight to the experts, The British Skin Foundation, who've validated our protective swimwear, to demystify all things sunscreen.

SPF labelling - how does it work? 

Sunscreens in the UK are labelled with an ‘SPF’. This stands for ‘sun protection factor’, although the SPF is more accurately the sun burn protection factor, as it primarily shows the level of protection against UVB, not the protection against UVA. SPFs are rated on a scale of 2-50+ based on the level of protection they offer, with ratings between 2 to 14 forming the least protected end of the spectrum and ratings of 50+ offering the strongest forms of UVB protection. We recommend a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 as a satisfactory form of sun protection in addition to protective shade and clothing.

sunscreen protection facts

UVA star system

When you currently buy sunscreen containing UVA protection in the UK you may notice a UVA star rating on the packaging. The stars range from 0 to 5 and indicate the percentage of UVA radiation absorbed by the sunscreen in comparison to UVB, in other words the ratio between the level of protection afforded by the UVA protection and the UVB protection.

Be aware that if you choose a low SPF it may still have a high level of stars, not because it is providing lots of UVA protection, but because the ratio between the UVA and UVB protection is about the same.

That’s why it’s important to choose a high SPF as well as a high UVA protection (e.g. a high number of stars). Sunscreens that offer both UVA and UVB protection are sometimes called ‘broad spectrum’. A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and a UVA rating of 4 or 5 stars is generally considered as a good standard of sun protection in addition to shade and clothing.

New sunscreen labelling

The new EU Recommendation means that you will notice changes on the labelling of some manufacturers’ sunscreens. As well as the SPF number, the SPFs are categorised as providing low to very high protection, to make the SPF guide easier to understand. The table below illustrates this:

sunscreen protection

According to the EU Recommendation, the UVA protection for each sunscreen should be at least a third of the labelled SPF. A product that achieves this requirement will be labelled with a UVA logo, the letters “UVA” printed in a circle

Sunscreen reapplication, how often?

Reapply sunscreen at least every couple of hours. However, when swimming (and towel drying) or sweating (such as playing sport) you will need to reapply more often.

Sunscreen protection

Should you take the same precaution at home as abroad?

Whether at home or abroad, UV rays can damage the skin. In summer especially it's important to use a SPF 30 in the sun to protect your skin. You should also protect your skin with clothing and seek shade between 11am-3pm

Where to go for more info on UV? 

Depending on what type of information you are looking for, information from the British Association of Dermatologists is pretty comprehensive.