Back from Barcelona: SPF, WTF?

“Send your daughter out to work in the fields in the Autumn and your daughter-in-law in the (sunny) Spring,” the Korean adage goes. Wishing hyperpigmentation, sun spots and the like on your daughters-in-law: bitchay! Gotta love those Korean Momagers though… 

As tempting as it may be to finally surface from winter and toast the new-found sunshine sans SPF (Sun Protection Factor), I wouldn’t give those Korean Mama-bears the satisfaction of prematurely ageing by toasting myself: #BitchPlease.

Fried Ed

I’m just back from a fabulous few days of R&R in Barcelona where I used sunscreen on my body for the first time in 2017. (Don’t worry bbz, I did apply facial SPF while skiing in Feb/March as well as during the recent sunny spell in Dublin: #TakeMeBack.) 

While we all know the only safe tan is none at all or the fake variety and I do advocate all manner of cover-ups/hats/parasols/beekeeper suits and what have you, I also know that a fair chunk of the population indulges in the odd bout of sunbathing so we may as well be realistic in our attempts to thwart skin cancer and premature ageing.

Sunscreen is generally not recommended for babies under 6 months so full beekeeper suits come in handy here!

UV Tent from Mothercare… I wonder if they come in my size?

In 1820 good old Sir Everard Home, an English surgeon, concocted an experiment to demonstrate that the skin could be burned by something other than direct heat. He exposed both of his hands to sunlight, one covered with a black cloth and one not. The exposed hand became sunburnt, despite a thermometer reading a higher temperature from the covered hand.

In 1889, a bright spark of a Swedish ophthalmologist by the name of Johan Widmark determined that ultraviolet rays were the culprit behind the dreaded sunburn. Sunscreens have been evolving ever since.

The concept of sun protection factor (SPF) emerged in the swinging ’60s as an indicator of how long the sunscreen protects the skin.

While most of our good selves are well-versed on SPF application for sunny days when #Life’sABeach, we don’t tend to wear it every day. And should we really wear SPF year-round anyway? In a word, yes. UVB rays are stronger in the summer but UVA rays (think UVA for Aging #fml) are present at fairly constant levels throughout the year unforch. If you think (or hope, à la moi #FingersCrossed) that the SPF in your daily facial moisturiser is sufficient, you’re Miss Taken hun. When testing out SPF products in the lab, a shot glass of the hard stuff is used, whereas  IRL, the majority of us apply less than a quarter of the recommended amount… #ShotsAllRound so! Foundation and other SPF-containing make-up may boost your protection but will pose no substitute for a comprehensive SPF lotion or cream. (In general, dermatologists turn their SPF50’d noses up at sprays as they tend to be applied and absorbed more unevenly that other formulations.)

Sunscreens come in two main types: chemical and physical. Ideally, you’d lash on a formulation combining the two. The latter sits atop the skin and deflects rays. #Let’sGetPhysical: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the usual ingredients. Physical block is ideal for blemished and/or sensitive skin. It’s also ideal for children as deflecting the UV rays has a cooling effect: #winning. The fly in the ointment is the geisha-like mask physical sunblock can leave on the skin, though more wearable textures have emerged in recent years.

Gratuitous snap of a surfer brandishing his zinc oxide sunblock. Surf Yogis for ‘clean’ sunscreen natch. Thank you Pinterest.

Sunscreens of the chemical variety, such as those containing sexy-sounding ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone and octocrylene, absorb UV rays which are subsequently released after being converted to heat. It’s vital to apply the chemical brothers at least 20 minutes before you launch yourself beach or poolside as the formula needs time to bed into your skin. This is one rule I adhere to strictly, #MorePowerToMe! Also remember to re-apply every couple of hours – and even more frequently if you’re swimming- as chemical sunscreens degrade at a much faster rate than their physical counterparts. 

SPF 30+ is #Goals. Higher SPFs may not actually provide a more extended period of protection as the formulation is usually washed off or absorbed after 2 hours or so. Good old SPF 30 blocks 96.7% of the sun’s badboy rays, SPF 50 blocks 98% and SPF 100 blocks 99%… Think about it: what’s more pertinent is adequate coverage and regular re-application to maintain optimal levels of protection than a sky-high SPF number.

Seek out products with broad-spectrum cover, i.e. UVA and UVB protection and preferably high levels of each (often denoted as *** or +++ on the label: #KnowledgeIsPower). Avoid PABA(para-aminobenzoic acid)-containing sunscreens if possible. Controversh, but many are intolerant of it, its attendant toxicities at high concentrations aside.

Interestingly, studies have shown that people apply less product when using a pricey premium-brand SPF so my advice is to go middle of the road with a reliable brand and to re-apply liberally at regular intervals. Scrooges, you need one shot-glass worth of sunscreen to cover the body and be thorough – don’t miss your ears and lips! I must confess, I’m quite the lazybones when it comes to re-applying as I hate rubbing in sunscreen over sand-encrusted skin at the beach but there is no alternative: UV rays, sebum, perspiration and water all work synergistically to degrade sunscreen over time, even ones which purport to be sweat and water ‘resistant’.

#VitaminSea, Catalan style

Worried about over-zealous SPF application diminishing your vitamin D levels? Don’t be. Read my post on vitamin D entitled ‘Vitamin D Guys, like What’s the Deal?’ and it should see you right! Sizeable trials have shown that the reduction in vitamin D is not significant. Foods that are brimming in vitamin D include salmon, sardines, mushrooms, eggs and fortified dairy products if you don’t get around to reading the post. (Sad face.)

 So go on guys, get your glow on SPF-safely.

And Barcelona you old beaut, hang tough, I’ll be back! Having been Gaudi’d to the point of gaudy and Sagrada Familia familiarised in the past, I concentrated on unwinding on this trip! Breakfast, beach, coffee, gelato, a casual lunch, cocktails, cava, rioja and a casual dinner was my daily formula: #InItToWinIt. I ate at FOC the first night- a funky Mexican with great food, cocktails, decor and music, Baraco, dreamy Italian Job that it is, on night 2 and had an exquisite veal burger with fries on my last night (which was last night!) at the Woki Organic Market. I’d genuinely recommend them all! And don’t miss the markets (La Boqueria) off Las Ramblas (#BasicBitch, I know) if you’re looking to create your own dream buffet…

FOCking amazing first dinner, and Italian Job extraordinaire at Bacaro night 2

Thanks for reading! As always, queries welcome and if you’d like to read more, please visit


My name is Michelle and I’m a Dublin-based GP (family doctor). Life is short: take the minimalist approach to maximise your health!

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  • Paula Martino
    May 16, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    I am not promoting this product but I use Lancôme foundation that is spf 15 because I get sun spots despite being of African American and Afro Cuban descent. I thought my brown skin would be of some sort of shielded protection but the sun and uv rays effect all.

    • skipthescript
      Michelle Morris
      May 16, 2017 at 1:32 pm

      Well done for looking after your skin Paula. All skin types need to protect their skin. Lancome is a great brand!! Michelle


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