Sunscreen is an essential part of any skincare routine. It’s not just for beach days or summer afternoons. Every day, whether it’s sunny or cloudy, UV rays can reach your skin, causing damage and premature aging. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the world of sunscreen, demystify the science behind it, and guide you on how to choose the best one for your skin type.
Sunscreen, also known as sunblock, is a product that combines several ingredients to prevent the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the skin. Two types of UV radiation – UVA and UVB – damage the skin, age it prematurely, and increase your risk of skin cancer. UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer, causing wrinkling and aging, while UVB rays burn the superficial layers of the skin and play a key role in the development of skin cancer. Sunscreen works by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight. They contain organic (chemical) and inorganic (physical) particles. The organic ones absorb UV rays and convert them into heat, while the inorganic ones reflect the UV rays away from the skin.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Sunscreen
SPF (Sun Protection Factor)
SPF measures the amount of UVB radiation protection a sunscreen offers. It tells you how long the sun’s UV radiation would take to redden your skin when using the product exactly as directed versus the amount of time without any sunscreen. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97% of UVB rays. Higher-number SPFs block slightly more of the sun’s UVB rays, but no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s UVB rays.
Broad Spectrum Protection
Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Both these rays can harm the skin and lead to skin cancer. UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn and play a significant role in causing skin cancer. UVA rays cause skin damage that leads to tanning as well as skin aging and wrinkles. The shortest wavelengths of UVA rays also contribute to skin cancer.
If you’re swimming or sweating, it’s essential to use a water-resistant sunscreen. Water-resistant sunscreens maintain their SPF level after 40 minutes in the water. Very water-resistant sunscreens maintain their SPF level after 80 minutes in the water. However, remember that water-resistant doesn’t mean waterproof, so you’ll need to reapply it regularly, especially after drying off with a towel.
Your skin type plays a crucial role in choosing a sunscreen. If you have oily skin, a gel-based sunscreen might be best. These are lightweight and don’t leave a white residue or greasy feel. For dry skin, a cream-based sunscreen could be more suitable. These are more moisturizing and can help hydrate your skin. For sensitive skin, look for sunscreens that are fragrance-free and contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, as these ingredients are less likely to irritate the skin.
Look for sunscreens with ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are safe and effective. These ingredients are physical sunscreens that reflect UV rays. They are less likely to cause a skin reaction than chemical sunscreens. Avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can harm marine life and may potentially disrupt human hormones.
Types of Sunscreen
Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays. They contain organic (carbon-based) compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone, which create a chemical reaction and work by changing UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat from the skin. They are often easier to rub into the skin without leaving a white residue. However, some people may find that chemical sunscreens can irritate the skin and eyes.
Physical (Mineral) Sunscreens
Physical sunscreens work by sitting on top of the skin to deflect and scatter damaging UV rays away from the skin. They contain the active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. They are often referred to as physical blockers. They are less likely to irritate the skin than chemical sunscreens, making them better for sensitive skin. However, they can leave a white residue on the skin and may be a bit harder to apply.
How to Properly Apply Sunscreen
Apply a generous amount of sunscreen to all exposed skin. Most adults need about 1 ounce — enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their body. Don’t forget to apply it to often-missed spots like the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears, and the top of your head. Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply at least every two hours, and immediately after swimming or sweating, even if the sunscreen is labeled as water-resistant.
Additional Sun Protection Measures
In addition to sunscreen, protect your skin by wearing clothing that covers your skin, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and wide-brimmed hats. Seek shade when the sun’s rays are the strongest, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Remember that UV rays can reach you on cloudy days and can reflect off surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow.
Choosing the right sunscreen can seem daunting, but with this guide, you’re well on your way to protecting your skin effectively. Remember, the best sunscreen is the one you’ll use consistently! So find a sunscreen that you love, and make it a part of your daily routine. Your skin will thank you!