on the packaging and how you can help them protect themselves

As families head for the sun this summer, will they be getting enough protection from their sun creams and lotions?

The safe sun message has been drummed into consumers for years and, whether they choose to follow them or not, nearly everyone is aware of the rules.

We know we should avoid the sun in the middle of the day, wear a hat and sunglasses, cover up with loose clothing and, of course, we should apply a high-protection cream or lotion, using it liberally and reapplying often. But just how much is a 'liberal' application?

Guidelines introduced by the European Commission in 2007 say correct application is as important as your choice of product and "in order to achieve the protection indicated with the 'sun protection factor', a quantity of 2mg/cm2 is required. The quantity to cover the body can amount to a third of a smaller bottle. Moreover, this quantity has to be reapplied frequently."

But researchers Annesofie Faurschou and Hans Christian Wulf, of the Department of Dermatology, University of Copenhagen, Bispebjerg Hospital, said sunbathers actually only used about a quarter of the recommended quantity and tested the protection offered using different amounts of sunscreen on volunteers. They used SPF4 sunscreen and found that applying 0.5mg/ cm2 and 1mg/ cm2 drastically reduced the SPF, while doubling the recommended amount resulted in a much higher protection factor.

They concluded: "This study indicates that the relation between SPF and sunscreen quantity follows exponential growth."

A Which? report in June last year also tackled the question of how much sunscreen people applied and found that most of the swimmers they spoke to at London Fields lido used between a quarter and half the recommended amount.

The report also found that three of 14 SPF15 sunscreens tested actually delivered less than the stated SPF, but all three manufacturers concerned disputed the results.

Over-reliance on sunscreen

So could people be relying too heavily on SPFs, especially when they are applying too little product?

Nina Goad, from the British Association of Dermatologists, says: "Most people only use half of the amount required to get the level of protection indicated on the packaging. We also commonly miss patches.

That's why, if you are likely to be heading outdoors in strong sunshine, it is important to choose a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF30 and to apply it liberally and reapply it frequently.

Dermatologists suggest that you apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go out and then reapply it 30 minutes after you go in the sun to cover any missed patches and make sure you have applied enough of the product.

"Sunscreen is a great tool for protecting areas of skin that can't be protected with clothing, and for when lengthy sun exposure is unavoidable, but it shouldn't be used as an excuse to spend longer in the sun at times that you would seek shade if you weren't wearing sunscreen."

And Caroline Cerny, Cancer Research UK's SunSmart Campaign Manager, says: "There is research to suggest that people who use a higher factor sunscreen stay out in the sun longer and end up getting more sunburn. Sunscreen alone is not enough to protect people from UV, so pharmacists play a very important role in encouraging their customers to use a range of protective measures."

Nivea Sun Brand Manager Rachael Jones says the brand is constantly trying to encourage consumers to use more sun protection and reapply it regularly. This is also why the company has developed easier-to-use formats such as new Invisible Protection, so customers feel comfortable applying enough to protect themselves.

George Mears, Operations Manager at Malibu Health Products, says: "There is no scientific way to establish exactly what SPF is good for us, even if we could accurately apply it evenly, without some experimentation. So the SPF is scientifically established with selected skin types, with a measured amount of sun protection applied evenly to a measured skin area.

"The SPF individuals use is established by them 'scientifically' by trial and error."

Giving sun protection advice

Nina Goad says pharmacists can play a key role in advising people on sun protection and encouraging them to use sunscreen in conjunction with clothing and shade.

She says: "Pharmacists are often the first port of call when people want advice on their skin and with so many different products on the market, choosing the best one for your needs can be confusing, so a proactive approach from pharmacy staff can make all the difference."

She also points out that people should not just protect their skin on sunshine holidays - they can still burn on a sunny day at home.

Tips from Julienne Curran, Medical Advisor at La Roche-Posay, which can be passed on to customers include:

  • Apply sunscreen every 80 minutes when in the sun.
  • Never use sunscreen in order to spend longer in the sun - no product offers 100 per cent protection.
  • Apply sunscreen before going into the sun and make sure it has dried so it won't rub off easily.

Customers should also be reminded of Cancer Research UK's SunSmart advice:

  • Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm.
  • Make sure you never burn.
  • Aim to cover up with a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses.
  • Remember to take extra care with children and keep babies out of the sun.
  • Then use factor 15+ sunscreen, applied generously and often.

SunSmart resources including leaflets, posters and advice cards can be downloaded or ordered free from Cancer Research UK (www.cancerresearchuk.org).

The safest tan

For those who decide that the potential dangers of a suntan are too great, there has never been a better range of fake and gradual tan products.

Manufacturers are even managing to mask the unmistakable fake tan smell caused by the reaction between dihydroxyacetone (DHA) and amino acids in the surface skin cells, which gives the darkening effect.

Johnsons was first to the gradual tan market with Holiday Skin, and Corinne do Nascimento, Senior R&D Manager, says: "We started with our best body moisturising lotion and tailored it with a touch of DHA."

The product was such a success with its gradual, more subtle results that the company decided to make it even better. The result, says Corinne, is a formula designed to avoid the main side-effects of gradual tan - streaking, staining and smelling.

For best results using fake tan, recommend that customers use the following steps:

  • Exfoliate skin.
  • Moisturise, especially areas such as elbows, ankles and knees.
  • Apply the fake tan in a thin layer, using less where skin is thicker.
  • Remove excess from knees, elbows and ankles with a damp cotton pad or flannel.
  • Wash your hands immediately.
  • Wait 30 minutes before dressing so clothes are not stained.

Sun care product news

L'Oreal focuses on anti-ageing sun care with two innovations in its L'Oreal Solar Expertise range. Sun Cream for Sensitive Skin's hypoallergenic formula contains a high concentration of a reflective mineral sun filter and Mexoryl XL to protect against UVA-induced skin ageing. The range offers SPF50+ Face Cream, SPF50+ Lotion for very fair skin and SPF30 Lotion.

Also new is Solar Expertise Active Anti-Wrinkle & Age Spot Sun Cream, a facial product in SPF15, SPF30 and SPF50+. In addition to advanced UV protection, the products contain hyaluronic acid and melanin control. L'Oreal, tel: 0161 655 1400.

Nivea has developed Nivea Sun Invisible Protection sprays in SPF10, SPF20 and SPF30. The sprays deliver a fine mist of invisible, protective sunscreen and the pump also sprays upside down for hard to reach areas. With a cooling sensation and no grease or stickiness, the spray protects instantly.

For smaller sun-seekers, there are new Children's Pocket Size lotions in SPF30 and SPF50, which have a light, non-sticky formula designed for children's skin. The packaging is designed to appeal to little ones without weighing mum down. Beiersdorf UK, tel: 0121 329 8800.

La Roche-Posay is launching Anthelios spray SPF50 for Sun Intolerant Skin, which is fragrance and paraben-free with an ultra fluid, fresh texture. Cosmetique Active, tel: 020 8762 4030.

Vichy's Capital Soleil range has new adult Multi-Position Spray SPF30, Renovated Hydra-Milk Body SPF50+ and Hydra Cream Face SPF50+ - all fragrance and paraben-free and hypoallergenic. Children are catered for with new Face and Body Milk, Face and Body Spray (both SPF50+) and Multi-Position Spray SPF30. Cosmetique Active, tel: 020 8762 4030.

Malibu sun care offers new Tropical Skin with gradual tanning lotions for face and body, plus Moonlight Shimmer wash-off bronzer and self-tanning bronzing lotion. For delicate lips, new Malibu Babes Lip Slick Lip Glosses in strawberry and coconut offer SPF20+. Malibu Health Products, tel: 020 8758 0055.

Savlon tackles the after-effects of sun exposure with new Savlon Aftersun Foam Spray, which cools, soothes and moisturises the skin without the need to touch sensitive areas. The water-based foam contains 4 per cent dexpanthenol, a moisturising agent that has been proven to help accelerate cell renewal. Novartis Consumer Health, tel: 01403 210211.

New Super Antioxidants from BetterYou contain organic vitamin C, Pycnogenol, natural vitamin E, natural vitamin A and selenium. The 100 per cent herbal supplement is formulated to help protect and repair tissue from the effects of challenges including UV exposure. BetterYou Ltd, tel: 0114 290 3679.

Credit crunch protection

Using the recommended amount of sunscreen, reapplied frequently, will add significantly to holiday costs, so here are some tips to help cash-strapped sun-seekers stay safe.

Cancer Research UK's Caroline Cerny says:

  • Sunscreen tends to keep for around two years as long as it hasn't been kept anywhere hot, so families could use up last year's sunscreen, provided it is within its use-by date.
  • Expensive brands aren't necessarily better than cheaper ones.

Nina Goad, from the BAD, advises:

  • Look out for cost-cutting deals on sunscreen products.
  • Protect yourself effectively with clothing and by staying in the shade when it is very sunny.

Lesley Keen trained as a journalist and has been a freelance writer and editor for more than 20 years, specialising in health and beauty. She has written for many trade and consumer publications and is a member of the Guild of Health Writers and of Mensa.