When it comes to sunscreen, you either do or you don’t. In fact, scratch that – when it comes to sunscreen, you just do.
We’re all not immune to the harmful effects of unprotected sun exposure, so sunscreen should really be less of an afterthought and more of a priority.
We all know UV damage is real, yet like the proverbial elephant in the room, we skip around the application of sunscreen. After all, how bad can it be? The answer is - a little more severe than you’d think.
It’s the cumulative damage from overexposure to sunlight that results in the pigmentation and age spots you see as you get older. The signs of UV damage don’t crop up overnight but rather, appear much later, often when it’s much too late.
As they say, prevention is better than cure, and what better time to start than now. Picking up from where we last left off (click to see our guide on toners), here’s our guide to sunscreens, from UVA to UVB and everything in between.
If everything up to this point sounds like we’re speaking in code, don’t panic. We got you.
Basically, the sun’s radiation reaches the Earth in three forms:
UVB rays, which cause sunburn
UVA1 and UVA2 rays, which age the skin
All three forms contribute to the development of skin cancer.
Which is why when it comes to choosing sunscreen, it’s important to look out for two things on the label:
Does it protect against both UVA and UVB rays (broad spectrum)?
What is the SPF?
Broad spectrum sunscreens protect against a range of radiation wavelengths. That means it provides full coverage against skin aging caused by UVA rays and skin burning caused by UVB rays.
“SPF” stands for “Sun Protection Factor”, a measure of how well sunscreen protects against UVB rays. For example, SPF 50 means that the sunscreen is 50 times more effective in guarding against sunburn than when nothing is applied to the skin.
When it comes to sunscreens, they typically fall under two major camps – physical and chemical.
Physical sunscreens or “physical blockers”, contain physical UV filters like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – natural minerals ground down into fine powders. Physical sunscreens work by sitting on top of the skin and deflecting the sun’s rays, preventing it from penetrating the skin.
What’s great about physical sunscreens is that they are naturally broad spectrum. This means full coverage protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
Also, physical sunscreens get to work immediately, deflecting harmful UV rays the moment they’re applied on your skin. They also don’t decompose through sun exposure, which means longer lasting protection – great news for all you go-getters busy go-getting.
Traditionally, physical sunscreens used to leave a ghostly white cast. However, thanks to the power of modern processing techniques, you can now wear physical sunscreen without looking like Casper’s distant cousin.
Chemical sunscreens or “chemical absorbers”, contain carbon-based compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone. Chemical absorbers work like a sponge, absorbing the active UV rays and releasing their energy in harmless ways.
Chemical sunscreens are more wearable as they tend to have a lighter consistency, and glide onto the skin with ease.
Chemical sunscreens take time to work their magic. Literally. Chemical sunscreens require about 20 minutes after application before they begin to work. They can also irritate sensitive skin types.
Know thy skin, know thy sunscreen. Choosing your ideal sunscreen is all about knowing your skin’s needs.
Physical sunscreens are less likely to clog pores, making it ideal for blemish-prone skin types. For oilier skin types, choose a sunscreen that is gel or water-based.
Avoid alcohol-laden sunscreens. Alcohol strips your skin of moisture, sending your sebaceous glands into overdrive, making your face even oilier and shinier.
It’s also best to stray away from heavy, cream-based formulas as these have a higher tendency to clog pores and encourage breakouts.
Sunscreens that contain the UVB filter ensulizole are usually of a lighter consistency, and are kinder to blemish-prone skin.
Thirsty skin in need of moisture should lean more towards sunscreens that have a moisturising base. Look for a cream-based sunscreen that moisturises as well as protects.
Those with dry skin and a damaged moisture barrier may want to avoid chemical sunscreens as these formulas typically contain ingredients that make dry, damaged skin more susceptible to skin irritation and stinging.
For sensitive skin types, look for physical sunscreens that do not contain preservatives or fragrances that irritate the skin. Look out for physical sunscreens as they are less likely to cause a stinging irritation to the skin.
For those with heat-activated skin conditions like rosacea and redness, use physical rather than chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens deflect the heat and energy given off by the sun away from the skin, reducing the chances of skin irritation and stinging.
Also look out for sunscreens formulated with salicylates or ecamsule, as these are less likely to cause a reaction.
For a product capable of protecting you from a lifetime of skincare regrets, you’d think we’d monitor its application a little more religiously. Contrary to popular belief, incorporating sunscreen into your daily routine is really as easy as counting to three…or four, if you follow our guide on how to hack your morning skincare routine in four simple steps.
If you’re using a chemical sunscreen, apply it at least 20 minutes before stepping out into the sun. This will give it enough time to work its magic.
Whether you’re using a physical or chemical sunscreen, make sure to re-apply every 1.5 - 2 hours while you’re exposed to the sun. Don’t forget to re-apply more frequently when doing physical activities that cause the skin to get wet or perspire.
For daily use, a sunscreen with SPF 30 should suffice. If you’re going to be spending more time in the sun, we recommend you up the ante and use one with SPF 50.
We recommend applying one teaspoon’s worth of sunscreen for your face and neck. Don’t forget your ears as well, they bask in the sunlight as much as the rest of your body does.
For the body, we recommend two teaspoons for the chest, two per arm, and two – three per leg, depending on your height.
So don’t skip around sunscreen, when it comes to protecting yourself from the sun, you just do.
Here’s to happy skin!
When choosing sunscreen, look for one that is broad spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays) with a minimum SPF of 30.
Re-apply sunscreen every 1.5 - 2 hours (more frequently if under the sun for long or doing physical activity that makes skin wet or perspire).
There are two types of sunscreen - physical and chemical
Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide. They work by deflecting UV rays away from skin.
Chemical sunscreens contain carbon-based compounds like oxybenzone. They work by absorbing UV rays and releasing the energy in harmless ways.
Physical sunscreens are ideal for blemish-prone, sensitive, dry skin types or those who have skin conditions like rosacea as they cause less skin irritation and stinging and are less likely to clog pores.