What does sunscreen do?

How does sunscreen work?

We know we should wear sunscreen to go out in the sun, but how does it protect us from the sun's powerful UV light? We're here to answer all your sunscreen related questions.

What does sunscreen do?

What makes wearing sunscreen so important to our skin health and what does sunscreen do to actually protect us from UV light?


All sunscreen contains active ingredients that work together to protect your skin from the different types of rays produced by the sun. Over the years NIVEA scientists have worked hard to move past the white sunscreen that sits on top of the skin and have created lotions that are invisible to the naked eye while providing a strong barrier for the skin. These sunscreens contain different types of UV filters that work together to make sure the sun's UV light doesn't harm your skin. 

Reflector UV Filters:

These are inorganic filters, and their job is to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. They reflect and scatter the UV light away from the skin and act as a kind of mirror for the skin.

Absorber UV Filters:

These are organic filters that soak up UV light hitting the skin and then converts it into a lower, less dangerous energy before releasing it back onto the skin. Some of these organic filters absorb UVA light and some absorb UVB light, so it's important to buy sunscreen that protects against both of these. Absorber filters are more efficient than reflector filters so sunscreens usually contain more of these, however they are supplemented by reflector filters.

Different types of rays

Sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays, but what are they?

UVA: UVA rays penetrate deep into the thickest layers of the skin, and contribute to early signs of aging and tissue damage. 

UVB: UVB rays penetrate the outer layers of the skin which causes immediate damage on the surface and are linked to some types of skin cancer. 

UVC: UVC rays are mostly absorbed by the ozone layer so don't actually reach Earth.

Some people with sensitive skin may find that their skin doesn't react so well to sunscreens containing lots of absorber filters, and if this is the case these will be replaced with more reflector filters in the sunscreen they choose to ensure they are still receiving adequate protection from the sun. It's important that sunscreens contain the different types of UV filters as this provides a broad spectrum of protection against the different types of rays, rather than just the protection from one type of UV ray. 

Many people dislike the greasy feeling that comes with wearing sunscreen and this is often something that deters people from giving themselves the protection from the sun that they need. There is a purpose for this - the UV filters in the sunscreen needs this oil to help them dissolve in order for them to become effective. The NIVEA Sun range has been carefully curated to ensure all of our sunscreen contains the necessary UV filters to protect your skin, while also providing a non-greasy feeling by keeping the oil content to an absolute minimum. 

The A - Z of sunscreen

From sprays and aerosols to water resistance - find out which is the best sunscreen for you and how often to reapply sunscreen

Which sunscreen format do you prefer?

There are five types of sunscreen format. The pump spray, trigger spray, lotion, roll-on, and aerosol. Which is your favourite?

What is SPF?

Sun protection factor is the length of time you're able to stay in the sun without causing sun damage to your skin. The higher the level of SPF the longer you can stay exposed to the sun, and this is dependent on your skin type so while everyone planning on going out in the sun needs to wear sunscreen, the SPF necessary to protect your skin varies from person to person. The darker your natural skin type the more natural protection you have from the sun, but even if you have darker skin you must always wear sunscreen. 

The level of SPF you need also depends on the time of day as the sun is strongest in the middle of the day (between 11am & 3pm in the UK), so keep this in mind when choosing your sunscreen, and think about purchasing either a high factor you can use for the whole day or a range of factors that you can switch between. 

When should you apply sunscreen?

  • In the morning
    Always apply sunscreen before going out in the sun, especially on your face as the skin is even more delicate than the rest of your body. This includes cloudy days as the sun's rays can still penetrate your skin through clouds. If you don't like the idea of applying a sunscreen to your face everyday because you're worried about breakouts or you have sensitive skin, try a moisturiser such as the NIVEA Sensitive Day Cream SPF 15 for everyday wear, or wear makeup that contains SPF such as the NIVEA BB Cream Light, to make sure you're not leaving your face with no sun protection. 
  • Throughout the day
    If you're spending prolonged period of times in the sun make sure you reapply as it can dry out on the skin and become less effective. 
  • After you've exercised or gone swimming
    Even water-resistant sunscreens will not last forever so if you're exercising and you're likely to become sweaty or going swimming you should always reapply once you've dried off and wait at least 20 minutes before swimming again to ensure the sunscreen has soaked into your skin. 

Who should wear sunscreen?

Everybody should wear sunscreen, even if your skin isn't prone to showing signs of sun damage, UV light still penetrates your skin and will cause damage without protection.

  • Children - children's skin is prone to sun damage and without proper protection and regular sun exposure they can develop problems later in life such as skin cancers or premature aging. Children's skin is much more sensitive than adult skin so sunscreens with high SPF especially made for children is recommended, such as the NIVEA Sensitive Protect & Care Trigger Spray SPF 50+.
  • Adults - Adults require less sun protection than children but it is still essential, particular for preventing skin cancers. Wearing sunscreen and protecting your skin on a daily basis helps to prevent the signs of aging as things such as sun spots, and wrinkles are often caused by exposure to the sun over time. That's why NIVEA have created sunscreen specially formulated to combat the signs of aging on the face that you can apply everyday and know that you're in good hands with products to suit all your needs. Try the NIVEA UV Face Anti-Age & Anti-Pigments SPF 50.

Don't just rely on sunscreen protection

Vitamin D is important for our health but even with the best sunscreen protection and regular application, it's important to limit your exposure to the sun by wearing protective clothing and taking some time to stay in the shade. Sunscreen should never be used as a way of staying in the sun for longer, it simply protects you while you're exposed but you're still vulnerable to things such as dehydration and heat stroke, so always keep this in mind. 


With the city name we are able to locate your area and to determine the right uv index.


It’s a low uv index for [city]


It's an average uv index for [city]


It's a high uv index for [city]


It's a very high uv index for [city]


It's a very high uv index for [city]
Check Another Location