SPF and PA rating in suncare products: the need to knows

Sunscreen shout-outs to keep your cool this summer #PushBEAUTYrecommends


It’s peak summer, summer, summer time so guaranteed you’ve booked a little time off work to get away from it all or you’ve been and gone (book something else immediately to beat those post-holiday blues) but intend on keeping the tan.

So, in the spirit of bronzing up we asked Sarah Henriques, Push Beauty Account Manager and SPF aficionado, to give us the low-down on staying sun safe this season. Here’s what you need to know…



That’s right, protection against UVB rays (the rays that burn your skin) is a huge deal. SPF is measured from factor 15-50 and the rating works according to how long you can stay in the sun without getting red. For example, if you normally burn after 20 minutes of sun exposure and you apply factor 20 this will give you x 20 longer in the sun before you start to go red.

UVB rays vary depending on the time of year and where you are in the world, so if you’re heading to the Maldives in August (yes I’m speaking to you, you know who you are) the rays will be stronger as it’s high season so you should opt for a higher protection. I have also read studies that show there is very little difference in the level of protection between factor 30 and factor 50 so you are much better off reapplying instead.

PA rating

While SPF is well known, PA rating is perhaps less so. It refers to protection against UVA rays which are the rays that age you, think A for Ageing. Of course UVB rays will age you too, but UVA rays are bad news as they cause pigmentation and premature wrinkles.  Also, they are the same strength all year round and can penetrate through glass and cloud. Measured in + symbols, the highest rating is +++ and can now be found in most sunscreens and even some makeup. My favourite product for all year round protection is the Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue, and I always use a day moisturiser with sunscreen too because with my freckly skin I have to be careful. I love the Elizabeth Arden Prevage City Smart for its added protection against pollution.

Chemical vs physical sunscreen

Both are good, you just need to choose which one suits you the best.

Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which work by sitting on top of the skin to deflect and scatter damaging UV rays away from the skin. These are often better for sensitive skin, but can be quite thick and chalky – they are also more likely to sweat or rub off.

Chemical sunscreens contain organic (carbon-based) compounds which create a chemical reaction and work by changing UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat from the skin. While they can cause irritation, they are much lighter and can be absorbed into the skin more easily.

Free radicals

The sun, pollution and smoking can cause free radical damage, which essentially means your body, and therefore your skin, isn’t as healthy as it could be. When you start to burn the UV rays damage your skin cells which desperately try to repair themselves and in doing so impact the cells around them, causing a cascade reaction over the whole body. Not ideal. Keep an eye out for sunscreens with antioxidants such as Vitamin C which will work to prevent and repair free radical damage. My absolute favourite is Murad Essential- C Day Moisture SPF 30 as it has a really light texture and a beautiful citrus scent.

Side note: the skin is the body’s largest organ and really is a mirror for what’s going on internally. If you want to have good skin then you need to look after your whole self. I worked at Murad for years and I think that Dr. Murad’s Inclusive Health philosophy is spot on – “You need to eat right, sleep well, apply good products and look after your emotional wellbeing”. Then if you do get burnt – because it happens to us all – your body is in the primed and ready to repair itself.

Sun care for your hair

Just like your skin, your hair can be damaged by the sun. We all know that sun exposure lightens hair temporarily (I can’t be the only one who squeezed lemon juice on their hair as a teenager) but the long term impact is not great. Just like tanning, when your hair gets lighter it’s showing you it’s been damaged which can result in premature ageing and permanent colour fade. Lots of hair products contain UV protection now, for example all of Maria Nila’s Care products have UV protection and a patented Colour Guard Complex – I like to think of it as the ultimate shield for your scalp and hair. If you do get burnt then I recommend Maria Nila’s Head & Hair Heal Masque to combat the dreaded sore hair parting. It contains Aloe Vera and is the ultimate scalp soother, working much like after sun to hydrate and repair your hair and scalp.

Push x

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