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Skincare Routine Step 8: Sunscreen - How It Works & How To Choose The Best Sunscreen For Your Skin

No matter what, do not leave the house without putting on some sunscreen. This is a statement we might have heard or read multiple times but we are still unaware of the gravity of it. Sunscreen is a skincare product that is vital to maintain skin health and prevent it from potential damage and issues[1] .

So, why is sunscreen application so necessary and what are the factors that affect your choice of sunscreen? Read on to find out!

What Is Sunscreen?

The worst kind of damage for your skin is sun damage and a sunscreen essentially helps to prevent that. The UV rays of the sun are quite damaging for the skin and constant exposure to them can lead to many skin issues including skin cancers. The UV rays that affect the skin can be further divided into two types - UVA and UVB rays. The UVA rays can cause skin ageing and pigmentation while the UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn. Sunscreen acts as a skin barrier that protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays of the skin.[2]

No matter how much you try you can not and should not protect your skin from exposure to the sun all the time. And here comes the need for sunscreen. If you can't prevent the skin from sun exposure you can at least protect it using the sunscreen.

How Does Sunscreen Work?[3]

The main function of the sunscreen is to protect the skin from the harmful rays of the sun. A sunscreen can work in two ways - primary blocking and secondary blocking.

Sunscreens that perform physical blocking reflect and scatter the harmful UV rays before it can enter into the skin thereby preventing skin damage. These contain ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

Sunscreens that do secondary blocking essentially absorb the high-energy UV rays before they can damage the skin. These contain ingredients like avobenzone and octisalate.

Then there is another important factor known as sun protection factor(SPF). It determines how well a sunscreen blocks the sun and thus helps to quantify how effective a sunscreen is [4] . Generally, a sunscreen with higher SPF is recommended.

How Much Sunscreen Do You Need To Apply?

Most of the people usually apply way less sunscreen that is ideally needed to protect the skin. For an adult, an ounce of sunscreen is usually needed to cover the entire body. You need to wait for 5-10 minutes after sunscreen application before you step out in the sun.

How Long Does The Effect Of Sunscreen Last?

Sunscreen usually lasts for about 2 hours after application. So, it is recommended that you carry the sunscreen with you so that you can reapply it every few hours. This becomes even more important if you step out in the sun regularly throughout the day. For instance, if you are going to spend your day at the beach, regular application of sunscreen is necessary.

Also, if you go for a shower or swimming, you need to reapply the sunscreen afterwards.

Do You Really Need To Put On Sunscreen Every Day?

Yes, you do. No matter the weather or your skin type, it is important to apply sunscreen whenever you step out. The rays of the sun can harm your skin even if it is not that sunny outside.

How To Choose The Best Sunscreen For Your Skin?

When it comes to choosing a sunscreen for you, we would like to discuss some factors that play a great role in choosing the sunscreen before we move on to the ingredients that you need to look for. Let's start.

Broad-spectrum: As discussed above, there are two types of UV rays that you need protection from - UVA rays and UVB rays. A broad-spectrum sunscreen is one that provides protection from both of these.

SPF 15 or higher: An SPF of 15 or higher is a must when looking for sunscreen. SPF protects your skin from sunburns. The more the SPF, the longer it will protect your skin from sunburn. Although, no matter the SPF, every sunscreen lasts for almost the same duration which is usually 2 hours.

Water-resistant: Although no sunscreen can be water-proof, a sunscreen that loses its effect when you sweat or take a single dip under water is frankly of no use. Look for a water-resistant sunscreen that ideally should hold for at least 40 minutes after being in the water.

Appropriate for kids: When it comes to choosing a sunscreen for the kids, you have to be a little more careful as kids have sensitive and softer skin. So, look for a sunscreen that doesn't contain ingredients like benzophenones or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA).

With that aside, let's now look at the ingredients that you need to look for and avoid while choosing a sunscreen.[5]

Ingredients to look for

Look for a sunscreen that has at least one of the following ingredients.

  • Ecamsule
  • Avobenzone
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Zinc oxide
  • Oxybenzone
  • Sulisobenzone
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Green tea polyphenols

Ingredients to avoid

A sensitive skin can be triggered by some ingredients present in the sunscreen. Here is a list of ingredients that you need to avoid if you have sensitive skin or skin issues such as rosacea.

  • Dioxybenzone
  • Alcohol
  • Fragrance
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid(PABA)
  • Oxybenzone

Note: Apart from choosing or avoiding the sunscreen ingredients based on your skin type, there are certain ingredients that are unsafe to use during pregnancy and that you need to avoid if you are pregnant. These are- avobenzone, ecamsule, oxybenzone and octocrylene.

What Are Some Other Ways To Ensure Sun Protection?

While sunscreen is a must to ensure protection from the harmful rays of the sun, there are certain additional ways you can implement on the days when the sun is quite harsh and you know you have to be out in the sun for long.

These include using clothing and fashion items. Use a hat, scarf, gloves, socks and shoes to limit the area of the skin exposed to the skin thereby ensuring sun protection. This will also ensure that you do not get tanned.

Another way to protect your skin from sun damage, more specifically sunburn is to avoid wearing synthetic fabric clothes such as nylon, polyester, rayon and acrylic clothes and dark coloured clothes, especially during summers. This is even more effective and applicable if you have sensitive skin.

View Article References
  1. [1] Moloney, F. J., Collins, S., & Murphy, G. M. (2002). Sunscreens.American journal of clinical dermatology,3(3), 185-191.
  2. [2] Latha, M. S., Martis, J., Shobha, V., Sham Shinde, R., Bangera, S., Krishnankutty, B., … Naveen Kumar, B. R. (2013). Sunscreening agents: a review.The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology,6(1), 16–26.
  3. [3] Gabros, S., & Zito, P. M. (2019). Sunscreens And Photoprotection. InStatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
  4. [4] Schalka, S., & Reis, V. M. S. D. (2011). Sun protection factor: meaning and controversies.Anais brasileiros de dermatologia,86(3), 507-515.
  5. [5] Rai, R., Shanmuga, S. C., & Srinivas, C. (2012). Update on photoprotection.Indian journal of dermatology,57(5), 335–342. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.100472

Story first published: Thursday, October 31, 2019, 15:28 [IST]
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