Sunscreen Factsheet | Health Hub

Sunscreen Factsheet


Getting too much sun can be harmful whatever your age. The sun exposes your skin to ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) that can damage your skin and lead to skin cancer. The dark pigment that gives the skin its natural colour is melanin and therefore a tan is actually a sign that the skin has been damaged and is trying to protect itself. In Ireland, there are 11,000 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year and with good protection against UV rays, most cases of skin cancer could be avoided.



UVA rays penetrate more deeply through the layers of skin than UVB and it is present year round, even on cloudy days. It is associated with skin aging as well as skin cancer.

UVB rays are mainly responsible for sunburn and are associated with two types of skin cancer – malignant melanoma and basal cell carcinoma.


Sunscreens: How they work

Sunscreens help protect our skin by filtering out UV radiation through organic and inorganic active ingredients. The organic ingredients absorb UV radiation, while the inorganic ingredients reflect UV radiation. A useful way to think about sunscreens is that they act like a sponge and a mirror, absorbing and reflecting UV radiation.


What is SPF?

SPF stands for ‘sun protection factor’ and shows the degree of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB radiation only. SPFs are rated on a scale of 2-50+. We recommend a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 as a satisfactory form of sun protection in addition to protective shade and clothing.


UVA Star System

UVA Star ratings range from 0-5, and indicate the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVA, compared with the level of protection it provides against UVB (i.e. the ratio between the level of UVA and UVB protection offered by the product). The higher the number of stars, the greater the level of protection against UVA.


It is very important to choose a sunscreen with a high SPF as well as high UVA protection (ideally 4 or 5 stars).


The EU recommends that the UVA protection offered in a sunscreen should be at least one-third of the SPF. Sunscreen products meeting this requirement are eligible to display a UVA logo, with the letters UVA enclosed within a circle.




How Should I Apply My Sunscreen?

Sunscreen should be applied 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun to allow it to dry and then again shortly after heading outdoors to cover any missed patches and to make sure you’re wearing a sufficient layer. Re-apply it at least every 2 hours, and immediately after swimming, perspiring and towel drying or if it has rubbed off.


Many people don’t realise that applying less than the recommended amount may reduce the protection which a sunscreen provides to a higher degree than you would think is proportionate, e.g. only applying half the required amount can reduce the protection by a shocking two-thirds.


An Irish Context

In Ireland, make sun protection part of your daily routine particularly from the end of March – September, when the intensity of sunburn producing UV radiation is greatest. But remember, whether at home or abroad, if the UV index is 3 or above, sun protection is required.


Know Your Skin Type

People with a darker complexion have more natural sun protection, and fair-skinned individuals are more susceptible to sunburn, skin cancer and photodamage.


Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important to keep teeth and bones healthy. Dietary sources of vitamin D include oily fish and fortified foods. Your body also produces vitamin D during short periods of incidental sun exposure. So the advice from dermatologists is to get some sunshine as you go about your day to day activities without burning or deliberately tanning.


The SunSmart Code

Step 1: Seek some shade

Step 2: Slip on some clothes

Step 3: Wear sunglasses

Step 4: Use sunscreen

Step 5: Know the UV index



British Association of Dermatologists

Irish Cancer Society

Irish Skin Foundation

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