Sunscreen 101

If you grew up in the 80s, you might remember how cavalier most of us were about sunscreen application. We had no qualms about using opened sunscreen from the previous summer, anything over SPF15 was considered fancy, and reapplication was unheard of.

Today we know different. Sunscreen protects us against skin cancer and premature aging. Not to mention, if retinol and acids are a part of our routines, sunscreen is a must. With all the lotions, gels, and sprays available on the market, we have no excuse.

Chemical vs Physical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreen protects your skin by absorbing the sun rays. Ingredients to look for in the inci list include Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Octisalate, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Homosalate.

Physical sunscreen protects the skin by deflecting the sun rays. Ingredients to look for in the inci list include Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide.

In broad terms, chemical sunscreen is easier to apply and typically does not leave a white cast. Physical sunscreen, on the other hand, can leave a white cast. That said, they can be more suitable for sensitive skin.

UVB (Ultraviolet-B) light will cause sunburn and can increase the risk of skin cancer. UVA (Ultraviolet-A) light penetrates further and causes photoaging.

What to look for in a sunscreen?

Broad-spectrum protection, since it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. Go for SPF of at least 30.

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) on the product marks the level of protection against UVB light. These go from 2 to 50+. That said – the difference in the levels of protection between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is 1% (SPF 30 will absorb 97% of sun rays, while SPF absorbs 98%).

UVA rating corresponds to the protection against UVA rays. Sunscreens can be labelled up to 5 stars or with a circle with UVA written in it. This is an EU rating, which means that the sunscreen complies with the EU recommendations and offers at least the third of the SPF protection.

General rules of the thumb

Do you need sunscreen daily? Yes, because most of the sun damage to our skin is incidental. By all means, you need sunscreen on a beach holiday. But sun damage happens on a daily basis when we are out and about.

Apply your sunscreen about 20 minutes before you go out in the sun.

It should be applied as the last step in your skincare routine.

Bear in mind – no sunscreen can provide you with 100% protection from the sun rays. That is why you need a hat, sunglasses, protective clothing and stick to the shade if possible.

If you plan to be out in the sun all day, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours (more often if you go swimming or sweat profusely).

Look for water-resistant formulas. No sunscreen is fully waterproof (that is why brands can’t label them as such anymore). That is why you will still need to reapply it every two hours.

How much sunscreen do you need?

2 mg/cm2. This translates to about ¼ of a teaspoon for your face. For both your face and neck, you’ll need about ½ of a teaspoon. For the rest of the body that is going to be exposed to the sun, you will need about an ounce of sunscreen per body part.

Most of us don’t apply enough, and we tend to forget areas like the back of the neck, the tops of ears, or tops of our feet. And if we don’t apply the required amount, we are not getting the protection we need. So even though you might be using SPF50, if you apply it in a thin layer on your face, you might be getting the equivalent of SPF10 protection.

People have various methods of application. We tend to dot sunscreen on all raised parts of our face (forehead, cheeks, chin, nose) and then rub it in. Make sure to go all the way up to your hairline and don’t forget your temples. Jude of Fifty Shades of Snail has a cushion puff method, in case you are interested.

Roberta Striga