If you want to enjoy the sun without damaging your skin, you need good sun protection. How do you find the right one? An overview.
Whether by the lake, in the city or by the sea – anyone who enjoys the sun needs to protect their skin. Because their warm rays not only offer warmth, but also harbor a danger for our body surface. In the short term, painful sunburns can occur, in the long term severe damage ranging from deep wrinkles to skin cancer. But which sun protection is best? Which texture suits which skin type? And how do you find the right sun protection factor?
Dermatologist and nutritionist Prof. Dr. Michaela Axt-Gadermann (current book “Schön mit Darm”) answers the most important questions about sun protection and explains to the news agency spot on news how you can prepare your skin for sunbathing with the right diet.
Which sun protection factor do I need?
When choosing the perfect sun protection, you should be guided by your own light type, i.e. skin type, and the UV index. “Skin type 1 is the Irish-Celtic type that doesn’t actually tan and sunburns very quickly. Light type 4 is the more Mediterranean type that tans quickly and is largely protected from sunburn,” explains Prof. Axt-Gadermann. The UV index is a scale from 1 to 10 introduced by the World Health Organization (WHO) – the higher the value, the faster sunburn occurs.
Which sun protection factor is required can be easily calculated with these two factors. With a quick Google search, pull up the current UV index and multiply that according to the light type: Type 1 by four, Type 2 by three, and so on. A concrete example: If a person with very fair skin wants to be in the sun on a day with a UV index of 7, you multiply seven times four and get 28. The appropriate sun protection factor in this case would be the standard SPF 30.
This also applies to cloudy days and sunbathing in the shade. According to the dermatologist, the UV radiation here can be even stronger than when the sky is clear, since sunlight is deflected in different directions by the water droplets or ice crystals in the clouds. And even shadows or clothing do not provide complete protection. When wet, the UV permeability of textiles increases even further.
How long can I be in the sun without sunscreen?
Every skin has an individual self-protection time (ESZ), i.e. a period of time in which the skin can be exposed to the sun without sunburn developing. “The self-protection time varies greatly and depends on the skin type and the intensity of the sun,” explains Michaela Axt-Gadermann. In this country, it would be between five minutes for very light-skinned types and 45 minutes for darker-skinned people in summer. “However, you should never fully exhaust the self-protection time, so it is better to use a slightly higher sun protection factor.”
If you stay in the sun longer or dry yourself after swimming, you have to apply cream. According to the dermatologist, only about 60 percent of the sun protection product is left after a four-hour stay in the sun. Therefore, you should apply cream after four hours at the latest, but at the earliest when you have dried yourself with a towel. “When you dry off, a large part of the sunscreen is always removed,” says Axt-Gadermann.
Cream, lotion or gel: which consistency works better?
Sun protection comes in a wide variety of shapes and consistencies. The dermatologist advises using a lotion for the body because it spreads well, and liquid, transparent products such as oils are also good.
On the face, a cream is ideal for dry skin, while a gel should be used for oily, seborrheic skin. Those who tend to have blemishes are more likely to develop so-called “Mallorca acne”. “This is often caused by emulsifiers in sunscreen. Fat-free sun protection gels do not require emulsifiers and are therefore usually well tolerated,” says Axt-Gadermann.
When choosing sun protection, environmental aspects also come into play: If the cream is washed off in water, UV filters get into the water and some of these are suspected of damaging coral reefs. In Hawaii and other US states, UV filters such as octinoxate or oxybenzone have been banned from sunscreen since 2021, and more and more coral-friendly sunscreens are now on the market in Europe too.
Apply sunscreen properly
But it is also important to apply the sunscreen sufficiently thick before sunbathing. “Most people definitely apply sunscreen too thinly,” says the dermatologist. In order to adequately protect the entire body of an adult from UV light, 30 milliliters or about six teaspoons of sunscreen are necessary – that corresponds to a whole handful of sunscreen lotion.
Many believe that the more thoroughly the sunscreen is massaged into the skin when applied, the better the sun protection. But the opposite is the case. If the sunscreen is rubbed intensively on the skin, it loses a large part of its protective effect – this has now been proven in a British study. Reason: The massaged-in cream settles in skin folds and pores. An even film that is spread over the skin but not rubbed in provides better protection.
With nutrition: sun protection from the inside
In addition to sun protection on the skin, a kind of “sun protection from the inside” can also be built up with certain foods. Green tea, tomatoes and tomato products, carrots, watermelon and pink grapefruit make the skin more resistant to UV rays. And even dark chocolate can help if consumed regularly. Although this would only achieve a sun protection factor of 4, explains Michaela Axt-Gadermann, this offers daily, waterproof “basic sun protection” that works from head to toe and has been proven to help delay sun-related skin aging.
Almonds can also contribute to sun protection, especially if you eat them with the brown shell. “US researchers from Los Angeles proved that the daily consumption of almonds could increase the skin’s resistance to UVB rays and improve the condition of the skin,” explains Prof. Axt-Gadermann. The study participants ate 40 grams of almonds per day – after twelve weeks, the sun protection had increased by 20 percent.
Probiotics also protect the skin from the inside. According to the nutritionist, taking probiotic bacteria up to two weeks before sunbathing can reduce damage caused by UV light: “Wrinkle formation, photosensitivity and sun damage can be reduced by probiotic bacteria and taking them often has a beneficial effect on sun allergies.”