Doctor shares how much sunscreen is needed to prevent skin cancer

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With summer finally here many Britons are enjoying spending lots of time in the sun, potentially hoping to develop a tan.

While there are some health benefits to catching some rays – including topping up your vitamin D levels – there are also risks.

Skin cancer is a deadly risk commonly linked to sun exposure.

With this in mind, Doctor Paul Banwell, the founder and former head of the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Unit (MASCU) in East Grinstead, spoke exclusively with about how much sunscreen is necessary to protect ourselves.

“Most people apply sunscreen too thinly and that means protection is reduced,” he said.

“An adult should be applying around six to eight teaspoons to cover their body.

“To help visualise this, some people use the two finger method.

“This works by squirting two fingers with sunscreen and applying two fingers to eleven different sections of the body, which include your head, face and neck, then left arm, right arm, upper back, lower back, chest, stomach, left upper leg, right upper leg, left lower leg and foot, right lower leg and foot.

“If you are using a spray, you want to apply until an even sheen appears all over the skin.”

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How often should we apply sunscreen?

“Regardless of the SPF, it’s important to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply it every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating,” Dr Banwell said.

“A high SPF should not lead to a false sense of security – it will not protect you from burning.

“A higher SPF does not mean you need to re-apply it less often. Sunscreens with high SPF ratings block slightly more UVB rays, but none offers 100 percent protection.”

What is the difference between the different types of SPFs?

“Sun protection factor (SPF) shows the degree of skin protection offered by a product,” he explained.

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“I would recommend when choosing a sunscreen, whether organic or chemical, that you look for a broad spectrum one so you are protected from both UVA and UVB rays.

“Newer sunscreens have infrared (IR) protection too and should be considered.

“The difference comes in how long it would take to burn compared to not using any sunscreen.

“So if you wear SPF 50, you can expect it to take 50 times longer to burn than if you were not wearing anything.

“An SPF 15 offers protection from 93 percent of UVB rays, whereas SPF 50 offers 98 percent protection of UVB rays.”

What’s the minimum SPF factor we should be using?

He added: “I would always advise people to wear SPF no matter what the weather.

“The minimum factor I would recommend is SPF 30. The NHS recommends an SPF of at least 30 to protect yourself.

“Personally, I would use SPF 50. I also recommend using shade, protective clothing and a hat and staying out of the midday sun.”

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