Carola Long: 'People often get distracted by high SPF numbers, but protection against UVA is also important

Beauty Queen

To tan or not to tan, that's the, ahem, burning question that troubles sun worshippers every summer. When the weather is hot in the UK it can seem like a "waste" not to rush outside and bask in it. However, given that cases of malignant melanoma are at a record high and dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe describes sun damage as "the skin's biggest enemy when it comes to premature ageing", it's important to use the right protection and apply it correctly.

Of course, the most extreme option is to avoid the sun entirely, but most of us find it too hard to resist. We won't all follow the bleak advice of one skincare-counter woman who told me that the only way to avoid ageing was to "live in a hole".

So if you are going to leave the safety of the UV-proof hole, what should you look for in a suncream? Dr Nick Lowe advises people with fair skin or a history of skin cancer to use an SPF 15 with UVA protection every day (his Super Charged SPF Day Cream is very good, £16.59, boots.com) going up to an SPF 30 in sunny weather. But he says that factor 15 is sufficient for people with olive skin or darker.

People often get distracted by high SPF numbers – which indicate the level of protection against burning UVB rays, but protection against UVA which can damage DNA, cause cancer and age the skin, is also important. Look for a UVA star rating of four or five (this is the system used by Boots) or the words "UVA" in a circle. The latter indicates that the product has a 1:3 ratio of UVA to SPF.

Dermatologists caution against scrimping – as a guideline, apply at least a teaspoon to your face and neck, and a teaspoon to hands and chest – and against using a high factor as an excuse to stay out too long. Dr Lowe recommends Nivea's SPF 30 spray with four UVA stars, and the Ambre Solaire range.

For the face, I like Estée Lauder's Bronze Goddess creams (from £20) or Clinique Sun with SolarSmart (£13.50). For the body, Boot's coconut-scented cream (£8.99) with five UVA stars will bring a Caribbean feel to the most homely of staycations.

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