Moisturisers containing SPF provide less sun protection than the equivalent strength sunscreen, according to new research. What’s more, people who use SPF moisturisers are also more likely to miss key areas of their face.
It’s well known that prolonged or excessive exposure to sunlight causes skin damage in the form of sunburn, premature ageing and increased risk of skin cancers.
For these reasons there is a broad push to use SPF creams or sprays to protect ourselves from the worst of this damage.
Traditionally these sunscreens have been specially designed formulations, however, more recently, daily moisturisers, makeups and a variety of other skin care products have started to include sun protective elements.
Despite the popularity of these products, their effectiveness has not been rigorously tested, according to University of Liverpool research published in PLOS One.
Using a specially modified camera that only sees UV light, a research team led by Dr Kevin Hamill and Austin McCormick assessed how effectively people apply sunscreen and sun protection factor (SPF) containing moisturiser to their face.
When an area of skin is successfully covered, the product absorbs the UV light and this area appears black in the photos – the lighter the area, the less successful the absorption.
Over two separate visits, 84 people (21 men and 62 women) were asked to apply sun protection, in the first visit SPF 30 sunscreen and, in the second, moisturiser with SPF 30. Pictures were then taken with the modified camera to see how effectively people applied the two products.
Analysis of the photos showed that when applying moisturiser people missed 17% of their face on average, whereas when applying sunscreen this dropped to 11%.
When just the high-risk eyelid areas were analysed, sunscreen users missed 14% compared with 21% with moisturiser. The eyelid area is a common site for skin cancers.
Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, tells HuffPost UK: “The skin of the upper and lower eyelids is thin and fragile, requiring protection. Eyelid cancers account for about 5-10% of all skin cancers and occur most frequently on the lower eyelid.”
The study also suggests that people do not apply the moisturiser as thickly as sunscreen, and therefore do not receive the full benefits of the SPF. The photos of people using the moisturiser are noticeably less dark on average, which indicates that the product is absorbing less UV light.
On average, men were significantly better at applying the products than women, other groups that proved better at it were people with darker skin tones and older participants.
McCormick said when applying both sunscreen and moisturiser, the area around the eyes is often missed, particularly near the nose. “We conclude that particular attention should be paid to the eyelid area when applying any SPF cream.”
He also advised using alternative methods of protecting the eyelids, such as UV filter sunglasses. Mahto agrees: “The best defence against this is to wear sunglasses that offer adequate protection against UVA and UVB which cover as much skin as possible.”
When choosing a sunscreen, she advises to look for a high protection SPF (SPF 30 or more) to protect against UVB, and the UVA circle logo and/or 4 or 5 UVA stars to protect against UVA.
Some people who use sunscreens around their eyes find they can get quite sensitive and irritated. Mahto suggests people that have chronic inflammatory skin diseases like eczema or psoriasis, or a predisposition towards conditions like rosacea, may find they’re better off using mineral sunscreens that contain titanium and zinc rather than chemical ones.