We all know that the one area we should never scrimp on is our health. However, as any holiday-maker who has winced at the price of sun cream might have wondered: do we really need to splash the cash on big name brands in order, to supply our skin with the protection it deserves?
It’s all too easy to feel frustrated when faced with a whole shelf full of sun cream options, some claiming to be moisturising whilst others claim to be water resistant or insect repellent. Most of us don’t want to spend that much time thinking about the intricacies of sun cream – we just want a reliable brand that does the job. That’s why we reach for the big-name labels that soothe us with their familiarity. After all, if they’ve been in the sun protection game for a while, surely most of their customers can’t be burning to a crisp on a regular basis, right?
Well, it might surprise you to find out that, when it comes to sun cream, bigger bucks don’t always translate as better value. At least, this was the notion put forward by scientists conducting research for Northwestern Medicine in Chicago last summer. The research project sought to identify the best performing sunscreens for dermatologists and doctors to recommend to their patients, only to discover that 40% of the top-selling brands tested were not meeting the official guidelines for sunscreen.
If Chicago seems like too far away to concern your sun cream decision-making here in the UK, consider the Which? Investigation, also conducted last year, and its revelation that budget creams were more effective than big brands costing three times more.
Tests performed on the backs of 10 volunteers checked 11 brands of SPF 30 sunscreen and discovered that a £2.79 bottle of Lacura moisturising sun spray from discount supermarket chain Aldi offered greater protection against sunburn than an £8.50 bottle of Hawaiian Tropic lotion. Other own brands which got the Which? seal of approval included Lidl’s Cien Classic Sun Lotion at £3.49 and Wilko’s Suncare Moisturising Sun Lotion at £3.50. In comparison, Hawaiian Tropic Satin Protection Ultra Radiance was given a ‘don’t buy’ stamp by the consumer watchdog for offering significantly less than the SPF30 claim on the bottle.
So, if price isn’t a key indicator of sun protection, what should you be looking for?
According to the European Commission, the most important elements to look for when choosing a sun cream are the levels of UVA and UVB protection.
UVB protection is signposted with the familiar Sun Protection Factor rating – the SPF. The higher the rating, the greater the protection the cream offers against damaging UVB rays. Why should you be worried about UVB? They penetrate the outer layer of the skin, resulting in inflammation, otherwise known as a nasty sunburn. Health experts recommend a minimum of SPF 15 when out and about in the sun and a minimum of SPF 30 when visiting hot countries where the sun’s rays are more powerful.
UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, damaging cells and causing premature ageing. Look for the letters ‘UVA’ in a circle on your sun cream of choice to indicate that the product meets the minimum level of protection required.
Another important consideration is whether you need water resistant sun cream. If you’re likely to be swimming on your holiday, it is highly recommended to purchase a product which offers some level of water resistance – it’s all too easy to burn whilst you’re taking a refreshing dip as harmful UV rays can cut straight through the water to a depth of at least 10 metres when the sun is high in the sky. Always be sure to reapply as soon as you’re back on dry land.
As well as protecting your skin whilst on holiday, it’s always a good bet to protect the rest of your trip with a robust travel insurance policy. Medical Travel Compared offer access to a variety of insurers, some of which cover pre-existing conditions. Whether you find yourself in need of medical attention whilst abroad or you experience a costly flight delay, the right insurance policy can ensure you’re not out of pocket and reduces the risk of that dream holiday becoming a nightmare.