What are Sunscreens? How to Choose One for My Skin?

Summer has arrived and the temperatures are soaring day by day. During this period, most of us consider using sunscreens to protect our skin from hot sun. However, with the growing number of sun-protection products in the market, it is often confusing for the first time users to choose one. But if you really know the science behind sunscreens, it becomes easy for you to figure out the right product for you.

What are sunscreens? How do they protect our skin?
Sunscreens are available in different types, like lotions, creams and sprays. They contain ingredients to protect the skin from the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.

Sunrays (along with the visible light) contains invisible and harmful UV radiation. UV radiation is of two types – ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet (UVB). Over exposure to both these rays causes severe skin damage.

UVA rays don’t cause sunburn, but they penetrate deep into the skin causing premature ageing, wrinkling and sagging of the skin. They also have the potential to cause skin cancer.

On the other hand, UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn and also contribute to skin cancer.

Applying sunscreens that have ingredients to block both UVA and UVB rays will help you prevent damage to your skin.

What is SPF in sunscreens?
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a number that shows the sunscreen’s ability to block UV rays from reaching the skin. Sunscreen with SPF typically has chemical ingredients like PABA derivatives, salicylates and cinnamates.

Broad-spectrum sunscreens:
If you want to stay protected from UV rays, you need to choose sunscreens that offer broad-spectrum or multi-spectrum sun-protection. These sunscreens have a combination of active chemical ingredients that protect against both UVA and UVB radiations. Look for products that have ingredients like benzophenones (oxybenzone), avobenzone, titaniumdioxide, ecamsule, cinnamates, zincoxide, etc.

Types of SPFs – How to choose one for your skin?
SPF in sunscreens ranges from 15-50. The higher the number, the greater is the product’s ability to block UVB rays. Based on your skin sensitivity you can choose product with the required SPF.

SPF Type % of UV protection Considerations Recommended for Skin type
SPF – 15 93.00%

Contains fewer sun-blocking agents, so skin can breathe more freely

A good general-purpose sunscreen for everyday use

Dark brown to deeply pigmented skins (Minimal sensitivity – Rarely or never burn.)
SPF – 30 97.00% Light to moderate brown skins (Less sensitive. Burn minimally, but tan well)
SPF 45 98.00% Includes more sun-blocking agents. Skin may feel heavy, greasy or warm Extended sun exposure – Activities at heights Fair, white skins (Very sensitive. Burn easily and tan minimally)
SPF -50 98.00% Includes a high quantity of sun-blocking agents; skin may feel heavy, greasy and reduced breathability Prolonged sun exposure – at extended heights. Best for thin-skin body regions like nose, ears and for children. Fair, white skins

How to use sunscreens?

  • Use a sunscreen every day.
  • Apply it on dry skin that is exposed to sun. Remember to apply it 25-30 minutes before going out.
  • Give more attention to your face, arms, ears, neck, hands and other parts exposed to sunshine.
  • Applying enough is also important or else you will get only 15-25% benefit. Around two tablespoons of cream is required for the mentioned above body parts.
  • If you are staying outdoors for long (between 10 am-4pm), you need to re-apply it every 2 hours.
  • To protect your lips use a lip balm that has SPF. Re-apply it whenever they become dry.

Some myths and facts

  • Myth: The higher the SPF, the longer will be protection.
  • Fact: Any sunscreen can provide protection only for few hours (about 2 hours).
  • Myth: Sunscreens are not required on rainy or cloudy days.
  • Fact: UV rays, especially UVA, can penetrate through clouds and all the natural
    elements like water, snow reflect up to 80% of the rays, thus intensifies the exposure. So you need sunscreens on all days if you are spending time outdoors.

Other products that contain SPF
There are beauty products available that come with sun protection. Some of them are moisturisers, body lotions, face creams, and other make-up products lip sticks, liquid foundation, lip balms, after-shave lotions, etc. They generally contain SPF 15. They are sufficient if your sun exposure is limited. But if you have a sensitive skin better to apply a sunscreen.