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15th March 2021

Why it is important to protect your face from the sun’s UV radiation

Our faces are arguably our most important feature; we see them every time we look in a mirror, they are what others look at when talking to us, and they are even necessary to legally identify us. So it makes sense to look after the skin on our face, right? Each year, billions are spent on facial cosmetics, from moisturisers to makeup, yet arguably the most important product- sunscreen- is often overlooked, especially in more temperate parts of the world such as the UK and Ireland. This puts not only our appearance at risk, it actually puts our skin health and health in general at risk.

The Dangers of UV Exposure

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer, including melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal and squamous cell carcinomas.[1] UV radiation is broken into three types: UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C, the latter of which does not penetrate the atmosphere.

Premature Ageing

It is estimated that 80% of the visible signs of ageing, including pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, can be attributed to UV exposure.[2]

UV-A radiation primarily penetrates through to the deeper levels of the skin to stimulate the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin colour, but it is also associated with ageing effects such as decreased skin elasticity and increased pigmentation.[3]

Skin Damage

While UV-B radiation only penetrates as far as the upper layer of the skin, it can lead to burns and DNA damage.[2]


Both UV-A and UV-B have been strongly linked to skin cancer development.[4] UV radiation produces excessive reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are by-products of normal cell metabolism that can lead to DNA damage in high amounts. UV radiation is the main cause of two types of skin cancer: the relatively benign non-melanoma skin cancer and the much more severe and potentially fatal melanoma.

In the UK, more than 16,200 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year, making it the 5th most common form of cancer.[5] This number has more than doubled since the 1990s and is projected to rise by a further 7% over the next 15 years.[4]


How Does Sunscreen Help to Protect our Skin?

Sunscreens contain ingredients known collectively as UV filters. These UV filters interact with UV radiation in three basic ways: through absorption, reflection or scattering. Absorption of UV radiation is achieved by organic, or ‘chemical’, filters such as octocrylene, bemotrizinol and diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate.[6] Inorganic filters, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, reflect or scatter UV radiation.[6] While different in their actions, all UV filters have the same end goal: to prevent the suns UV radiation from damaging our skin, and all have long histories of use in sunscreens.

Scientific evidence is showing that regular sunscreen use reduces the risk of melanoma and other forms of skin cancer [7,8,9] and also helps protect against photo-ageing.[10]

Despite the obvious risks associated with UV exposure, and the demonstrated benefits of sunscreen, people remain largely ambivalent towards sunscreen use.[11, 12] This could be due to the negative perception of sunscreen among the general public: a lot of people associate sunscreen with thick, white creams, and are naturally quite unwilling to apply what can feel like outdoor primer to their skin, especially their faces! But that’s where the characteristics of the different types of UV filter come into play.

The Differences in Sunscreen Formulations

The individual characteristics of UV filters may make them more suitable for specific skin areas and types. Organic filters tend to be more cosmetically pleasing; the fact that they absorb UV radiation rather than reflecting or scattering it means the dreaded ‘white look’ associated with sunscreen is mostly avoided. The amounts of organic UV filters required to achieve a desired sun protection factor (SPF) also tend to be lower than that required of inorganic filters, leaving room in the formulation for cosmetically-pleasing ingredients such as moisturisers. This means that organic sunscreens are generally pleasing to the skin, and well-formulated organic sunscreens can often be indistinguishable from moisturisers.

What Type of Sunscreen Should I be Using on my Face?

While the skin may seem the same throughout the body, the skin on the face is actually thinner and more prone to water loss. It is also oilier, as sebaceous glands, which produce droplets of oil known as sebum, are most abundant on the face and scalp.[13] As such, the thin, constantly exposed skin of the face, may benefit from organic sunscreens that are specifically formulated for the face. These types of sunscreen, such as SunSense Daily Face SPF50+, contain an oil-free moisturising base alongside organic UV filters to provide very high protection from UV radiation while also helping to address moisture loss and support the skin barrier, all while feeling light and comfortable.




[1] Romanhole RC, Ataide JA, Moriel P, Mazzola PG. Update on ultraviolet A and B radiation generated by the sun and artificial lamps and their effects on skin. Int J Cosmet Sci 2015;37(4):366-370
[2] Flament F, Bazin R, Laquieze S, Rubert V, Simonpietri E, Piot B. Effect of the sun on visible clinical signs of aging in caucasian skin. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol 2013;6:221–32.
[3] Palm MD, O’Donoghue MN. Update on photoprotection. Dermatol Ther 2007;20(5):360-376
[4] Fourtanier A, Bernerd F, Bouillon C, Marrot L, Moyal D, Seité S. Protection of skin biological targets by different types of sunscreens. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed 2006;22:22-32
[5] Melanoma skin cancer statistics [Internet]. Cancer Res. UK2015 [cited 2021 Mar 02];Available from:
[6] Egambaram OP, Pillai SK, Ray SS. Materials science challenges in skin UV protection: a review. Photochem Photobiol 2019; Dec 30. doi: 10.1111/php.13208. [Epub ahead of print]
[7] Olsen CM, Wilson LF, Green AC, Biswas N, Loyalka J, Whiteman DC. How many melanomas might be prevented if more people applied sunscreen regularly? Br J Dermatol 2018;178(1):140–7.
[8] Green AC, Williams GM, Logan V, Strutton GM. Reduced melanoma after regular sunscreen use: Randomized trial follow-up. J Clin Oncol 2011;29(3):257–63.
[9] Robinson JK, Bigby M. Prevention of melanoma with regular sunscreen use. JAMA 2011;306(3):302–3.
[10] Highes MCB, Williams GM, Baker P, Green AC. Sunscreen and prevention of skin aging: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 2013;158(11):781-90
[11] Koch S, Pettigrew S, Minto C, Slevin T, Strickland M, Lin C et al. Trends in sun-protection behavior in Australian adults 2007-2012. Aust J Dermatol 2017;58(2):111-116
[12] McLoone JK, Meiser B, Karatas J, Sousa MS, Zilliacus E, Kasparian NA. Perceptions of melanoma risk among Australian adolescents: barriers to sun protection and recommendations for improvement. Aust NZ J Public Health 2014;38(4):321-325
[13] Kolarsick PAJ, Kolarsick MA, Goodwin C. Anatomy and physiology of the skin. JDNA 2011;3(4):203-213



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