This is a sunscreen guide if you happen to be going on a Proper Summer Holiday. A bucket and spade, egg and chips, little girls getting cornrows, straw-donkey-souvenir sort of holiday. A fortnight on the Costa with sun, sand and giant goldfish bowls of gin and tonic.
It’s so easy to be lax on holiday with sunscreen – you’ve not saved up and daydreamed all year to think about cancer and wrinkles. You want to be carefree and beachy and TANNED, insouciant and cool to the point of being mistaken for a local. The girl from Ipanema, yeah?
But fact is, you will emerge blinking from your Ryanair flight into a large, bright outdoor oven. You are as vulnerable as one of those little hatching baby turtles making a run for it on the beach in terms of sun damage. Feeling flabby and conspicuous in your pallor, the temptation is to fling yourself out into the light bareback, but there is every chance you will just turn fuchsia immediately – and then you’re that poor puce English person in agony that everyone’s laughing at. Sunburn is real, skin cancer is real, it is what it is, wear the sunscreen.
I’m now going to explain something very, very boring, but please try not to glaze over, it’s important.
There are two kinds of UV light that cause damage to skin: UVA and UVB. Sunscreen that protects against both is called ‘Broad Spectrum’. UVB protection is measured by SPF, and you want AT LEAST 30 – or even better, 50. There’s not actually a huge difference between 30 and 50 apparently, but every little helps. UVA protection is star rated in the UK. Look for a little round circle with stars in it to see the rating – I honestly have no idea why you would use anything other than 5 star rating when it is so readily available, but use 4 star at the very least. You’re going to need two products: a cream for home and a clear spray for reapplying throughout the day, but more on that later.
You actually need to spaff on quite a lot of suncream to truly benefit from the protection advertised on the label – most people are not putting on enough. The NHS guideline is:
- 2 teaspoons of sunscreen if you're just covering your head, arms and neck
- 2 tablespoons if you're covering your entire body while wearing a swimming costume
For this reason I think that a squirty suncream is better for your first application of the day (as opposed to a spray) as you can ensure you are sufficiently basted much more easily. You need to apply your sunscreen whilst you are butt necked in front of a mirror, 15-30 minutes before you go outside.
My favourite product for this first application is factor 30 P20, which does seem to not budge as easily, is broad spectrum, 5 star UVA and readily available in the chemist or a big boots. The SPF 50 one has a lower UVA rating for some reason, hence why I’m recommending the SPF 30. They claim it’s so effective it can be applied but once a day – I’m not convinced, but I went to Art School so what do I know? I wish it was a lotion for application reasons stated above, but they only do an SPF 20 one of those, which might as well be baby oil as far as I’m concerned. It’s £25 (sorry).
I also think the Superdrug and Boots own brand ranges (Solait and Soltan, respectively) are fantastic: broad spectrum, high SPF, 5 star UVA ratings and always on offer. They start from about £4.99.
You need to reapply throughout the day, especially if you go swimming or sweat a lot. If you are just walking about, then every couple of hours as a ballpark rule. What you want is a clear spray with a high SPF: If you are hot and sweaty, you won’t want to slather on sticky white cream. If you can afford it then get a nice brand – you’ll be keener to put it on. I really like Vichy bronzing water (£19)
I really like a roll on, which travels well in a handbag and is easy to share with the men/small children you happen to be travelling with (god knows they will not bring their own). I’ve been using a cheapo Solait one from Superdrug, but I also really like this one from Child’s Farm.
All sunscreen expires after 2 years – if you are a bit type A then you might write down when you bought it in sharpie on the bottle, but basically if it’s ancient it’s not going to work anymore. If in doubt buy new.
And now, as a reward for the earlier tedium, here’s my the ultimate beach holiday sun hack: Self tan in your after sun. It is VERY easy after a couple of gin and tonics to look down forlornly at your pasty limbs and decide to throw caution to the wind and just sunbathe with no protection. In the evening, after that glorious cool shower you’re going to take before dinner, add some self-tanning drops to an after sun lotion. I really like this Hawaiian Tropic cocunutty one (£5) , not least because a. it’s the most joyous smell of holidays and b. it masks the scent of the self-tan. You will wake up in the morning an encouraging shade darker, and won’t be tempted to skip your SPF. Isle of paradise drops are terrific, and at under 100ml can be carried through security.