If you thought tanning got complicated when SPF numbers were introduced back in the 1980s, you may find that the labelling introduced following last year's round of EU sun-screen regulations drives you to a darkened room for a little lie down.
Until the new EU regulations, SPFs related only to protection from UVB radiation. While UVB rays were long seen as the baddies - the rays that burn and add to the risks of cancer - UVA rays are far from innocent, causing the premature ageing of skin and contributing to the risk of skin cancer.
The packaging on all sun-protection products must now list the levels of protection against both UVA and UVB, with a recommended ratio of 1 to 3, which means an SPF30 product, should also offer SPF10 against UVA.
The most important thing to remember is that sunscreens simply cannot deliver total protection from UV radiation, with even the highest SPFs letting some UV rays through - even products which claim to offer "total protection" or be a sun-block.
Helpfully, the EU website (ec.europa.eu) offers a list of other measures which help protect against burning and sun damage, which include avoiding excessive sun exposure at peak hours -usually between 11am and 3pm - keep yourself well covered when it's not possible to stay out of the sun; wear hat and sunglasses to provide additional protection and reapply sunscreen products regularly to maintain protection levels and apply them in sufficient quantity.
The JC beauty desk would also recommend applying sunscreen with care so you don't miss bits, and especially don't miss tops of ears, tops of toes (important when lying out in the sun), top of the head (especially chaps with thinning hair), and always apply sun-screen under as well as around the straps of swimwear, tops or dresses because straps may move leaving unprotected skin vulnerable to burning.
What so many women are doing, of course, is avoiding the issue almost completely, by choosing to fake it, either with a self-tan product applied at home or with a trip to a salon to have one professionally applied.
To help you find the most efficient sunscreen, fake tan and after-sun products, we have been busily testing them on your behalf.
Leading French beauty brand Thalgo Sun Repair Cream-Mask Emergency Sunburn Care soothes sensitive areas like face and décolleté (150ml, £22.50 at www.beautique.com)
Orba Originals Aftersun Rehydration Treatment, containing anti-inflammatory Camomile extract and aloe vera, is a cooling, soothing gel for sunburn, heat rash and dry, irritated or peeling skin £14.99 (www.orbaoriginals.com)
Apres-Soleil Bronzage Prolongé from another trusted French brand Lierac is an intense repair and hydration cream for the body. Helps tan look fresh and moisturised (150ml, £22).
Jean d'Estrees Soothing After Sun Emulsion has gold particles to give tan a post-beach glow. Soothing ingredients rehydrate skin (200ml, £27.06).
Aubrey Organics After Sun Face & Body Moisturiser containing CoQ10 pomegranate, aloe vera, shea butter and organic rosehip seed oil to soothe and cool skin after sun exposure. (www.aubreyorganicsuk.co.uk)
If you suffer from hyperpigmentation (the scientific name for those age-spots caused by excessive tanning back in the day when we didn't know better, or ignored the advice), you can reduce some of the discolouration without resorting to chemical peels, microdermabrasion or laser skin resurfacing. In trials, Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector showed a 53 percent improvement in evenness of skin-tone and reducing the appearance of dark spots when used over a 12-week period. The lightweight serum - hich became an almost instant bestseller in the UK, US and France within months of its launch last year - is now available in a 50ml size, which means enough to slap on those other zones affected by age-spots, the décolleté and backs of hands.
The fake-tan product everyone is talking about is the No Sun Tanner by the A-listers' skincare hero, Dr Perricone. An all-over body tanner, it is applied daily to all the bits you wish to look tanned. A natural-looking colour develops over seven to 14 days. The tanning complex delivers all the benefits of the sun, including pro-vitamin D, without the harmful effects (118ml, £50)
Nail guru Leighton Denny and tan king James Harknett are the techno-geniuses behind Sun-Believable, a nearly odourless, instant-drying fake tan in mousse form. A "guide colour" (tint to you and me) makes it almost idiot-proof to apply, and it wears evenly for up to 10 days (£30). The range includes an exfoliator (£18), moisturiser (£20) and a clever travel-friendly set with 100ml sizes of each product at £35.
Among the cleverest of fake tan products is Xen-Tan Perfect Blend Custom Self-Tan, an all-in-one fake and instant tan in a can. The spray can has dual chambers which allow you to have a fake tan or an instant colour by moving the dial to the "Bronzer" setting (£34.99).
Vita Liberata, which specialises in those who have hard-to-tan-skin, has two new products designed to offer a deep tan to those with a very pale skin tone. Intense Silken Mousse and Extra Rich Silken Chocolate are odourless and formulated without perfume, alcohol and parabens and the active ingredient, DHA, comes from organic sugar cane. The firm also has a moisturizer, Scent Secure, that neutralises the stale-biscuit smell of many fake tan products (200ml, £22.50).
Natio, the brand from Australia, where they really know about sun damage, has three new self tan products for 2011 which all contain a botanical essential-oil blend to help tan last longer. The Self Tan Mousse (£16) is tinted to allow for easy application, while the Sun-Kissed Glow Gradual Tan Lotion (£13), is a moisturizer infused with a touch of tanning agent to build a gradual tan.
For the authentic Chessex tan, Crazy Angel Express Liquid Tan and Self Tanning Lotion with colour guide are both "By Appointment" to the cast of The Only Way is Essex and its rival Made In Chelsea, which arrived on our screens last week. The range contains skin nourishing Bearberry extract and naturally derived DHA and is free of alcohol and parabens.
The Self Tanning Cream from German brand Alcina provides an innovative dual effect which is particularly helpful for those with dry skin: a self tanning product and skincare cream (200ml, £15.30)
HELP, I NEED SOMEONE...
... to do my back. If you are not confident about doing your fake tan yourself, no matter how foolproof a product claims to be, Paul Edmonds salon in Knightsbridge offers the Xen-Tan fake tan at £50, while Fenwick, Brent Cross, NW4, is offering the all over St Tropez tan for £15 (020 8 8202 8200 x 2350).
The Sun Cellular Defence line from Italian salon skincare brand RVB includes the sun preparation product, Melanin Activator Cream Gel. It is designed to stimulate the production of melanin, prevent dehydration and prime the skin to protect itself from free radicals (£21.50 only from RVB salons: www.rvb.eu)
Kate Middleton's favourite skin-care brand, Karin Herzog has combined two of its best-sellers to create the pre-tan combo Dynamic Tone & Tan. The detoxifying Silhouette Cream and Tone & Tan are designed to be applied daily, and work together to (ahem) help firm the body and build a tan before sun exposure.
Thalgo has an excellent new collection of three suncare products for face and dècolleté - super high protection SPF50+; Age Defence Sun Cream SPF30 for initial sun exposure; and Age Defence Sun Fluid, SPF15 for tanned or darker skin (£22.50 each). As well as SPF30 and SPF15 lotion, the body range includes a low-protection SPF6 oil spray for body and hair (all £25.50).
Clinique's latest SPF 35 Targeted Protection Stick is a travel-friendly solution for sensitive, often neglected areas such as lips, under eyes and ear lobes. Enriched with Vitamin E, it helps protect skin from free radical damage, while emollients including Jojoba, help keep skin moisturised. Photostable sun screens help protect from UVA.
Aubrey Organics, the first company to launch an all-natural sun protection range way back in the 70s, has introduced its new formula Natural Sun collection in the UK. The Natural Sun SPF30+ contains a natural mineral sunscreen formulated with organic green tea, shea butter, jojoba and sunflower oils. There's an unscented version designed for children and those with sensitive skin.
Paris-based beauty house Jean d'Estrees has two new high SPF anti-ageing face products: light, non-greasy Sun Wrinkle Control Cream SPF 30, ideal under makeup as well as on the beach (50ml, £31.15), and Invisible Sun Spray SPF 25 for face and body, enriched with Buriti Oil, a natural sun blocker high in vitamins C and A (200ml £32.68.