Q&A with Mike Brown
Whether you're in the UK or going somewhere reliably sunny, it's important to take care to avoid getting sunburnt. Boots suncare senior advisor Mike Brown tackles some of your questions about what goes into suncream, how much to use and which type is the best for you and your family.
Q. rubyslippers: What are your thoughts on factor 50? Apparently it offers no more protection than factor 30. Is this true? Myself and my son are milk bottle white and this is the stuff I use on us both every year.
A. Mike Brown: The SPF is the measure of the protection a product provides against burning. The number relates to how much protection the product gives you, so SPF30 will reduce the burning effect of the sun on your skin by 30 times, for example, if you spent 30 minutes in the sun, it would be equivalent to just one minute without sun protection.
Whereas SPF50 will reduce the burning effect by 50 times. It might sound like SPF30 is enough but for people with sensitive and very pale skin like yourself and your son, this extra protection can be very important and certainly won't do any harm. I'd recommend that you keep using SPF50 when you're exposed to the sun.
Q. Paisleyleaf: I've read that the star rating is important as UVA rays can cause longterm skin damage and maybe skin cancer too. So I do go for 5* creams. If the star rating is important - why aren't more people made aware of it? It seems to be a bit of a secret.
A. Mike Brown: It's good to hear that you always go for 5-star UVA rated products. UVA or Ultraviolet 'A' are the rays which penetrate more deeply into the skin and whilst it will cause some burning, UVA also causes long term skin damage such as wrinkling, sagging and uneven pigmentation of the skin. There is also a growing belief that it is associated with more harmful effects such as skin cancer and has no positive benefit to the body.
Therefore, choosing the maximum 5-star rated products is very important to protect you and your family. The industry introduced the UVA star rating system in 1992 and in 2004, it was updated to introduce the 5-star level. All Boots Soltan sun protection products have had this maximum 5-star rating since 2004, and we're working hard to try to spread the message of the importance of 5-star protection. Every Soltan product is clearly marked 5-star UVA protection on the front of its packaging.
Q. nightcat: Which of sunblocks available from Boots offer widest spectrum protection, ie UVA and UVB?
A. Mike Brown: The widest spectrum of protection from UV rays is found in products with the maximum 5-star UVA rating and a high SPF, for example SFP50 so look out for this on the packaging. For example, each and every product in the Soltan sun protection range has 5-star protection and products are available up to SPF50+.
Q. MmeLindt: If my face cream has a SPF of 15, and I also use tinted moisturiser/foundation with SPF 7 does that add up to SPF 22? In the same way, if I put sun cream on top of moisturiser does the SPF of both creams add up to a higher protection?
A. Mike Brown: Unfortunately you cannot add up the SPF levels you use, you will only receive protection from the one single product with the highest SPF.
Q. feedthegoat: Am I wasting my time worrying about whether or not my daily facial moisturiser has SPF? It's the only thing I use on my face, even though I wouldn't go out in the summer sun without an SPF20 cream on my arms and legs. Given that you apply sun cream every 1-2 hours, is a face cream that you apply once at 7am any use at all?
A. Mike Brown: Whilst lots of daily moisturisers these days have SPF in them, they don't all include UVA protection. Such products are designed for incidental sun exposure, for example walking to the local shop at lunchtime, however for prolonged sun exposure such as on the beach or in the park, you need to ensure that you use a product with UVA and UVB protection.
In response to your question about how long a face cream will protect you for, there will be some residual protection on the face all day from a facial moisturizer with SPF. However, it is unlikely that this will be at the level of SPF 15 after several hours.
Q. Zam72: I've been using the Boots Once for Kids range to protect my son all day at infant school. I read somewhere that the P20 once application sun cream wasn't all that great as it didn't offer the right UVA (or B?) protection. Is this right and does the Boots Once give good UVA and UVB protection? Why is it that there's only star ratings for UVA rather than UVB?
A. Mike Brown: P20 now contains some UVA protection. It has a 3-star UVA rating and therefore offers some protection against UVA light but not the maximum protection that a 5 star rated product has. Soltan Once, as with every product in the Soltan range, has been awarded the maximum 5 out of 5 stars on the UVA star rating system, so it offers the best protection against UVA rays available and lasts on the skin for up to six hours.
UVB rays are responsible for the majority of burning so protection against UVB damage is measured by the SPF, rather than a star rating. For children, you should be looking out for a high SPF to protect against burning and 5-star UVA rating to guard against the long-term effects of sun damage.
Q. Turkeyboots: Are there any real "once" a day suncreams? I always start off with good intentions with suncream application but by 2pm I generally get distracted and forget. And as a very pale redhead, with two pale redhead DC, I know from experience that you can get sunburned at 4pm or 6pm, not just in the 11am to 3pm window!
A. Mike Brown: You're totally right that you can get burnt at any time of day, it's just that during the hottest part of the day between 11am and 3pm the sun is at its strongest and you are at most risk of sun damage. The Soltan Once range lasts for up to six hours on your skin, so if you apply in the morning you will still be protected at lunch.
However, if you've been particularly active or have been in the water, you'll need to reapply more regularly. With very pale skin, I'd suggest you use a product with a high SPF above 30 and 5-star UVA protection to guard against long-term effects of sun damage.
Q. Prettycandles: Is there a high-factor mineral sunscreen that does not block skin pores, does not make your face or skin pasty white or shiny, which doesn't have nano-particles, is sweat resistant and only needs to be applied once a day? Or am I looking for the Holy Grail?
A. Mike Brown: Yes it is the Holy Grail I am afraid! A good compromise is Soltan Once Face SPF30. It contains some minerals and some traditional filters but is not white, is sweat resistant, won't block pores and lasts for up to six hours on the skin.
Q. AtlantisLegoDuplicates: What should we ask our schools to do about their sun protection policy? Our school allows sun lotion to be sent in but won't remind or help children to apply it, or make time for them to. They won't let the kids play in the available shaded area, either. This to me seems ridiculous. Having recently lost a very young, very dear friend to melanoma, I am considering taking my son out of school on very hot days.
A. Mike Brown: Unfortunately, the policy for sun protection varies from school to school. I cannot comment on what the correct policy for your child's school should be but would suggest you encourage the head teacher to follow the sun smart guidelines from Cancer Research and to look at the advice from local healthcare professionals. Alternatively, speak to a suncare consultant in your local Boots store. The only sure way you have to ensure your child is protected in these circumstances is to apply an all day long product. These do work provided a good layer is applied at the beginning of the day.
Q. Prettycandles: If we apply sunscreen to our DC in the morning, for instance, how long should we wait before dressing them so that it will not rub off? And will waiting long enough reduce staining on clothes?
A. Mike Brown: While it's usually advised that you should wait 15 minutes after applying sun protection before going out in the sun, in reality, your skin is protected from the moment you apply the product. Boots recommends the 15 minute rule so you can ensure sun protection is fully dry (less likely to rub off) before going outside and to prevent people from going into the sun first, and then applying protection which results a period of time when you are no protected from the sun at all. In reality, you can dress your son quite soon after applying sun protection but to reduce staining on clothes, wait for a few minutes for it to dry and ensure you rub the product in properly.
Q. Whomovedmychocolate: How much sunblock should I use for me and for my toddlers? I normally go for a golfball-sized amount for me, but that much basically turns the kids into soupy messes. Also, can you apply it to wet skin? I often do but I'm not sure if that means it sloughs off.
A. Mike Brown: As a rule of thumb, your child will need half of the amount you apply to yourself. Usually about 1-2 tablespoonsful is sufficient for their entire bodies. It can be rubbed onto wet skin but there will be a slight dilution effect of the sun product in these circumstances so ideally it is advisable to apply to dry skin.
Q. notasausage: Are there any suncreams or sprays that can be used on heads without giving the greasy comb-over look? It's for my 18-month-old, who won't keep her hat on, but it would be just as useful for my son who is a little thin on top!
A. Mike Brown: We have a hair and scalp protector product that can be sprayed onto partings, Soltan Hair and Scalp Protector, it is still very slightly greasy however, this is because all sunscreen actives are oils so it is hard to have something with a truly dry feel that will provide high SPF protection and the maximum 5-star UVA protection
Q. Rubyslippers: Is 15 minutes a day in the shade enough to get the Vitamin D required by a baby to prevent rickets and other Vitamin D deficiency diseases? I am worried about my 8-month-old getting burned.
A. Mike Brown: Sun exposure we get accidentally each day throughout the summer gives us more than enough exposure to Vitamin D. You are doing the right thing with regard to your baby, as child's skin cannot protect itself in the sun in the same way as an adult's skin can so it's essential to keep them covered in loose clothing, seek shade and use a sun protection product designed specifically for babies. Humans are also incredibly efficient at generating Vitamin D from very low exposures to sunlight and a great deal of this also comes from our diet.
Always buy a reputable brand of sun product to be sure the correct level of research and development has been carried out before launch and whilst a small amount of sunlight is good for you, the inescapable facts are that over exposure to the sun causes long term skin damage and risks to your health.
Q. Sunshiney: I'd like to know if it's normal that if I apply a high factor sunscreen, like factor 50, and have say, an hour's exposure, my skin feels sore. It's not burnt, or even gone pink, but it feels sore and sensitive. Is my skin being damaged? Do I need an even higher factor? I am very pale, needless to say.
A. Mike Brown: There are several explanations for this potentially. It may be that your skin is particularly sensitive to sunlight and any exposure is causing it to feel sensitive and sore. Or, a more likely explanation however is that as you are pale, the UV light is starting to damage your skin before it is showing signs of being burnt.
Sunlight is incredibly dehydrating and will leave skin feeling dry and sore even without outward signs of burning. Make sure you are applying a broad spectrum (5-star UVA rated) product and apply it generously. Ensure your skin is always well moisturised as this improves its barrier properties. Finally, restrict your exposure to the sun when it is at its most intense (between 11am and 3pm) and always seek shade where possible.
Q. Sazisi: My kids all get a rash from chemical sunscreens. I've tried all of them and have an expensive pile of unused bottles of the stuff, so I have to buy mineral-based sunscreens such as Clarins which are expensive and more difficult to source. Why don't Boots make one?
A. Mike Brown: Thanks for your feedback. From the Soltan range, we'd recommend you try one of our Sensitive products, they are fragrance free and contain Shea Butter for extra moisturisation.
Q. ThreadKillerQueen: I am really worried that some ingredients in suncream in fact add to the chance of getting cancer. Also, DD has very sensitive skin and any suncream I have tried so far has resulted in a rash. I would like to know what is better for DD. Carefully covered and unexposed or rash and pain?
A. Mike Brown: There is no evidence whatsoever that any of the ingredients in modern day sun protection products give you cancer. The chances of contracting skin cancer are greatly increased by over exposure to the sun and there is real scientific evidence linking sun exposure to skin cancer.
I would suggest keeping your child covered and in the shade as far as practically possible. Perhaps trying some of the sensitive skin products. To test its reaction on his skin, apply a small amount inside his arm first. Also consider that is may not definitely be a reaction to product that he is suffering from and could be a reaction to sunlight itself.
Q. Donnie: I spent ages trying to locate some more E45 sunblock earlier this year only to discover it has been discontinued. It was the only one which kept my very fair and eczema-prone DD1 protected, with no nasty reaction. I have recently bought some proderm which has good reviews. Which cream is the best for eczema-prone children please?
A. Mike Brown: The difficulty with eczema is that different people have different triggers that cause flare-ups. The Soltan Sensitive range reduces the skin's sensitivity to the effects of the sun and has been shown to be well tolerated by eczematous skin. This makes it a good option for someone with skin conditions such as eczema and is close to the E45 sun product to which you refer to.
Q. LackaDAISYcal: Why do creams labelled for sensitive skin still bring my DD out in the most hideous eczema rash? I know that the sun can aggravate eczema anyway, but her reaction appears within minutes of application, even before she sees the sun! We have spent a small fortune trying various different so called sensitive creams, and Boots Soltan is no exception.
Also, for those of you with DC with sensitivities or eczema, I recently tried a sample of Green People sunscreen on my DD, and so far so good! No red, sore and itchy skin behind her knees, on her eyelids and crook of her arms. Usually she reacts within minutes of suncream being applied, but two separate applications over two days and nothing!
A. Mike Brown: The difficulty with eczema is that different people have different triggers that cause flare-ups. The Soltan sensitive range is a good option and has been shown to be well tolerated by eczematous skin but you appear to indicate this has caused you problems in the past.
As far as I am aware, the Green People product has low levels of UVA protection and so there is a compromise between protection profile and allergy. I would always recommend a 5-star UVA rated product in order to give your skin the maximum protection against the deep down damage of UVA rays and long terms effects of the sun.
Q. Belledechocolatefluffybunny: We don't use sunblock, because I can't find one that my son isn't allergic to. After a little while he comes out in hives and it's really expensive to buy a bottle, test it and discard it as it makes him itchy. He's always covered up, stays in the shade and has not been burnt so far. Is suncream really necessary given the fact that it also gives us Vitamin A which is vital? Is there anywhere that I can buy sunblock where I can test it first before I spend £8+ (he's allergic to all of the Boots ones, all of the major brands, all of the Superdrug brands etc. We also buy the 'improved formula' ones in the hope he's not allergic to these but sadly he is.)
A. Mike Brown: It is Vitamin D that we get from sunlight and actually we need very little sun exposure to get sufficient for our body's needs. Most Boots stores have tester bottles of sun product that you can try or really small packs that are relatively inexpensive. I would suggest going into a large Boots store and talking to the suncare consultant and I am sure they would be happy to help you with testers and trying some of the products first.
It may also be worth consulting a healthcare professional to diagnose what, if any, ingredients he is allergic to and determine if in fact it is not product related but a reaction to sunlight itself.
Q. ruddynorah: I have some concerns about which chemicals are used in suncream. Generally, I keep my children's skin chemical-free so it feels at odds to then slather them in thick lotion containing ingredients that I'm not sure about. I'd prefer it if they just covered up, stayed shady and kept out of the midday sun. I also hate the way it picks up sand and grit. Can you convince me?
A. Mike Brown: It's right to keep your children covered up, in the shade and out of midday sun but to fully protection them from sun damage, you do need to apply sun protection to them when their skin is exposed to the sun. Remember, skin can still be burnt through clothing or in the shade. Have you tried experimenting with a variety of different types of products such as lotions, sprays and sticks to see which works best for your children? It is also hard to keep them adequately covered up all the time and there will always be some risks of the exposed skin then burning. There will also be times in the water, on the beach, etc, when it is simply not practical to use clothing alone to fully protect them.
Modern sunscreens are really tested to very thorough standards in terms of their safety and over the past decade the amount of reactions occurring to sunscreens has been falling rapidly. If you're very concerned, try a small amount on the inside of your child's arm before applying to the whole body. Boots also has suncare consultants in store who are there to advise and demystify consumers on issues such as these so for more specific advice seek their help. However, my overall advice would be, always use reputable brands of sunscreens so that you can be confident the correct amount of testing and research has been carried out.
Q. Wilfshelf: I'd like to know why suncreams (and most cosmetics) are not subject to the same kinds of testing that medicines are? I believe there is now evidence that lots of the novel, chemical ingredients in suncream, such as PABAs, benzones etc (now not used in Europe I think?) might actually be implicated in causing skin cancer, rather than preventing it?
And given the untested risks of free-radical causing agents, is it also wise to replace these with nano-grade metal oxides which are also untested over the long term for their effects on health?
A. Mike Brown: The legal requirements for developing sun protection products fall under the cosmetics directive, they are deemed cosmetic products not medicines currently in the EU. This view is constantly being reviewed but this is the current classification.
Ingredients such as PABA and Oxybenzone are not novel, they are incredibly old molecules and ingredients like PABA have not been used for decades in reputable brands. There has also been a slight indication that this material may be carcinogenic in animals but certainly nowhere near as carcinogenic as overexposure to the sun.
Over the years the level of safety and efficacy testing requirements for cosmetic ingredients have become ever more stringent. In the case of new molecules to be used as sun filters the level of testing required before approval for use is incredibly similar to medicinal products and takes many years for a chemical company to develop the actives. Many modern sun filters use combinations of these new sophisticated sun filter actives and have had a huge amount of testing, research and safety data before they are deemed suitable for use.
In terms of metal oxides, there has been a huge amount of safety information generated on ingredients like Titanium Dioxide and there is no evidence of skin penetration. Ingredients such as Titanium Dioxide have been used for over 30 years and are under constant review by all regulatory bodies. There is no evidence from any of the safety testing carried out on these materials that there are any adverse effects whatsoever. However, if you are concerned, there are many products that do not contain metal oxides at all and Boots has suncare consultants in store who are there to advise and demystify consumers on issues such as these.
Q. nightcat: Are there any sunblocks that rely on physical rather than chemical barrier? Are the sunblocks recommended (or not) for frequent & prolonged use? Is there any info/research on long term use / side effects - and where to find it? Is there any info on who the sunblocks would not be recommended, why and where?
A. Mike Brown: There is only one physical filter that can be used in sun products – titanium dioxide. Many products today contain this material but there are few that rely entirely on it. But please don't be worried about 'chemical' products because the ingredients used in them have gone through extensive testing to ensure they are safe for use.
I am not aware of any research that has shown a long-term risk from using sun protection. There have been publications recently that have suggested that excessive use of very high protection products by some individuals may have an impact on their ability to produce Vitamin D and that this might affect their long-term health, but I have seen no evidence of this myself and do not believe it is a serious problem especially since we can get all the Vitamin D we need from a balanced diet.
The only situation where sun products might not be recommended would be for those individuals who have an allergy to one or more of the active ingredients. This is extremely rare and so isn't an issue for the vast majority of the population but for the few people affected, alternative sun protective methods might be needed (or physical sun protection products).
For further information I would recommend using 'Google Scholar' to search for credible scientific journal articles in the subject area of interest. In this way you should avoid the extensive 'mis-information' that appears on the internet.
Q. StarlightMcKenzie: I suffer terribly from acne, but a blast from the sun works miracles. Trouble is, if I put something like SPF 20 on, I have to lie there bored out of my wits for 20 times longer. What on earth would be the point therefore, on my ever applying sunscreen?
A. Mike Brown: While sun exposure can help the surface appearance of acne, the damage deep down in your skin is accumulating. The risk to your skin is not simply about burning but also longer term deep down damage such as premature ageing and more serious conditions such as skin cancer that occur from over exposure to UV light. Therefore, I would always recommend that you protect your skin with a 5-star UVA product and SPF of at least 15, depending on your skin type, which I cannot tell from your question.
Q. chickiolina: I have a question. I am mixed race and tan very easily - just an hour out and about in the sun, even with factor 50 sunblock on, will still leave me with ridiculous tan lines from clothing/shoes etc! What sort of product should I buy to prevent this? Also, what product would be best for my face without leaving it looking like I'm wearing white paint on my face?
A. Mike Brown: The highest available sun protection factor in the EU is SPF 50+. To ensure maximum protection always apply very liberally. Unfortunately, if you are prone to tanning very easily it is difficult to prevent this happening completely as some UV light always still gets through even the highest of sun protection products but a high SPF product will minimise this.
There are many light textured products available for the face. Soltan anti-ageing face lotions are available in SPF15, 30 and 50+ such as Soltan Once Face and do not leave a white film on the skin.
Q. SparkleRainbow: I have heard that in order to actually achieve the sun protection factor advertised in the sun screen you need to apply it "generously" and that we often don't apply enough. What does this actually mean? Also, DS is very pale skinned, whereas DD1 is very olive skinned. I have always treated them the same, applying 50+ regularly, always wearing hats, and covering up, keeping out of sun between 12 and 2. So I am intrigued as to why DS has never been burnt or tanned ever, but as for DD, after a couple of days in the sun she will be several shades darker.
A. Mike Brown: In answer to your first question, you should allow enough sun protection to liberally cover your body. For most adults this equates to about 2-3 tablespoons or 30ml to 35ml for total body coverage. The best way to apply it is one limb or body part at time, allowing time for the product to fully dry before exposure to the sun. Regarding your second question, one of your children simply has more natural melanin, which allows her to tan more easily. Broadly speaking the darker the skin tone the lower the incidences of skin cancer but this is not totally prescriptive and it is still very important to protect them both equally.
Q. BessieBoots: Do you think that the media's portrayal of tanned as good and healthy is damaging to your work and to general health? I hate even fake tan, as I think it pushes tanned skin as the norm.
A. Mike Brown: It's true that your skin only tans as a protective mechanism in response to skin damage so every tan represents some damage. Many people do seem to be obsessed with tanning but I would always advise that the only safe tan is a self-tan. However, it's undeniable that people like to look brown and enjoy the sun so it is crucial that we promote sun protection and provide quality products that offer the highest levels of UVA protection and a choice of SPFs. My personal view is that we would all be much happier if we could just enjoy the summer and be content with the natural colour of our skin (whatever colour that is). Tans are not healthy nor is the obsession with getting one.
Q. notwavingjustironing: Do you really get what you pay for? I'm horrified at the price of some of the sun creams, but it's usually a guilt purchase, as I'm reluctant to buy the cheaper, own-brand version just in case it doesn't give the same protection.
A. Mike Brown: You're right that sun protection products are likely to be some amongst the more expensive products in your health and beauty regime but this is because of the cost of the ingredients used in them to make them effective. However, protection doesn't need to break the bank. Choose a trusted brand and look for what they contain rather than what they cost.
Q. clayre: I want to know what is in suncream which ruins childrens clothes. I always use factor 50 on my children, and I have bought many brands, and every single one stains their clothes. No matter what I try, I can't get the stains off. What is it that stains them and is there any way to remove the stains?
A. Mike Brown: It's true that sun protection can be difficult to remove from clothes due to the sun filters present in the formulations. However, applying or soaking the garment in a pre-wash stain remover is very effective, particularly if you choose a stain remover that is designed for fats, grease and oils.
Alternatively, you could rinse or soak the garments in white vinegar before washing. This is a very effective natural, home remedy for stains. Next, wash the garment in the hottest temperature that is safe for the fabric and the check for the stain again before drying. Never place an item in a tumble dryer before a stain has been fully removed as the heat could set the stain permanently. If the stain is still persistent, you could try an extra-strength bio-enzyme product that is designed to remove oily discolourations and use a brush to gently loosen the stain from the fabric. Additionally, dry cleaning will remove the stains.
Q. CMOTdibbler: I'm fascinated as to how you became a suncare specialist - whats your background? Did you come from the non ionising radiation field?
A. Mike Brown: By training I am a biochemist and I used to work in university research looking at genetic diseases. Whist this was really interesting work, you didn't see much in terms of immediate impact of your work. I moved into the Suncare industry in 1986 and the great thing is that I can immediately see the results of the projects that I am working on. I get a lot of pride from seeing the products I help develop on the shelves of Boots stores and in knowing that they help people enjoy their holidays as well as preventing skin damage.
Q. MadamCastafiore: Please could Boots start stocking Aveeno spray on sunblock? It is the best stuff ever, but we have to pay a fortune to have it shipped from Ireland or the States - half our village use it so we do a huge order every once in a while - but Johnson and Johnson who make it don't think here is any call to market it over here.
A. Mike Brown:As this product is an American product it may be that it does not comply with EU guidelines for sun products, which could explain it not being stocked in the UK.
Q. Prettycandles: Is last year's sunscreen okay to use this year? There isn't always a use-within indication on the container.
A. Mike Brown: By law, cosmetic products have to have a shelf life of 30 months or be labeled with a use by date. However, to maximise the quality of the product, it should be stored in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight. Have a smell and feel of the product first, and, if it seems okay and has been stored correctly, it should be fine to use. However, as a final check, you should refer to the 'period after opening' symbol on the labeling, as products do have a fixed life after they have been opened.
Last updated: about 3 years ago