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  5. How To Choose The Right SPF In Sunscreens?

Summers are here and how! You may have numerous questions pertaining to your skincare and how you can evade the harsh effects of sun exposure. How do you prevent suntan and sunburn? How should you apply your sunscreen?

How long do you have to wait after a sunscreen application before you can go out to run your errands? And last but not the least, how long can you stay outside with the sunscreen?

Scroll down to know more about SPF, types of sunscreen, and how to choose the right sunscreen to safeguard yourself from sun burn and damage.

What Does SPF In Sunscreens Mean?

Even though a few individuals know what exactly it stands for, SPF is a simple term which denotes ‘Sun Protection Factor’. It is a common measure of a sunscreen’s potential [1] to guard your skin from the harmful UV rays.

The mechanics behind this measurement is as follows – If it takes approximately one minute for your vulnerable skin to change colour and turn red after exposure to direct sunlight, then applying a sunscreen with SPF 15 minimizes the sun burn 15 times longer.

Now, let’s assume that you buy sunscreen with SPF 30. If it takes around 10 minutes for your unprotected skin to tan and turn red, then applying the sunscreen will protect you from sun tan and burn for 300 minutes. That means that your skin will be safeguarded from any sun damage for at least 5 hours post sunscreen application.

It is however important to consider that SPF can only protect your skin from UV B rays. These rays are primarily responsible for causing surface burns on your skin, which we commonly notice as reddening of the skin. SPF however, doesn’t safeguard your skin from UV A rays, which are responsible for causing long-term damage such as wrinkles, aging, and sun spots.

Before your skin tans and turns red, UV A rays can actually cause severe damage to your unprotected skin. Some studies have shown that at least 1 in 5 individuals may experience skin cancer by the time they turn 70.

Sunscreens are no longer labelled as sweat proof and water proof.

How Does SPF In Sunscreens Work?

sunscreen cream

Every sunscreen has a primary and a secondary component. These are the active ingredient which provides sun protection and the emulsion which acts as a carrier.

A. Active Ingredient

The active ingredient is responsible for safeguarding your skin from sun burn and damage [2]. These are further categorized into two types:

1. UV Absorber

These are chemical ingredients which absorb the UV rays and modify them into low heat components. This heat is hardly noticeable. However, a small section of individuals do experience discomfort and warmth after applying sunscreens.

UV absorbers are also known as ‘organic’ ingredients, as they are primarily composed of carbon atoms, which are a basic structural component for various organic matter. These absorbers usually attract UV A rays, while a few are known to attract UV B rays as well. These are responsible for causing sunburn and increasing the risk of skin cancer.

New studies have indicated that the longer UV A rays, apart from penetrating the deeper layers of your skin, also makes you vulnerable to skin cancer by altering your immune response to structural DNA damage. Hence, many skin experts and dermatologists recommend the usage of broad-spectrum sunscreens for better protection against sun damage.

2. UV Reflectors

These chemical ingredients are composed of oxides, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which absorb and disperse the UV rays. Most of the commercially-available sunscreens have at least 6 or more active ingredients which provide better sun protection.

B. Emulsion

The emulsion, such as gel, foam, oil, cream, milk, or lotion, acts as a carrier for the active ingredients in sunscreens. It is usually composed of a combination of water and oil, along with other beneficial ingredients.

Emulsion plays an important role in the preservation of sunscreens so that they have a longer shelf life. Additionally, it ensures that the sunscreen effectively adheres to your skin, influences how the overall composition smells and feels against your skin, and provides water resistance.

Types Of Sunscreen

spf sunscreen 50 and 30

There are two types of sunscreens – physical and chemical.

A. Physical Sunscreens

Physical sunscreens have active mineral additives such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which stays on your skin’s surface and deflects the adverse UV rays from damaging your skin. This type of sunscreen protects your skin from both UV A and B rays. Also, they provide immediate sun protection after application. Physical sunscreens are also commonly known as natural or mineral-based sunscreens.

Physical sunscreens are popularly used as they don’t clog your pores. However, they can leave behind a thin film on your skin, feel quite heavy, and may sweat away easily. This means that you may have to reapply the sunscreen frequently.

Most skin experts and dermatologists recommend using physical sunscreens rather than chemical sunscreens as they are photostable and capable of blocking different ranges of UV wavelengths. Photostability is the innate property wherein the active ingredient doesn’t change or degrade in the presence of sunlight.

There are several commercial brands which produce physical sunscreens which are lightweight, non-chalky and easy to apply.

B. Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens have organic elements (carbon origin) which initiate a chemical reaction on your skin’s surface. In this reaction, the UV rays are converted into heat, which in turn is finally emitted from your skin.

These sunscreens are comparatively thinner than physical sunscreens. Hence, they spread and absorb more easily on your skin, making them a popular choice for daily use. Also, a very little amount is required to safeguard your skin. They may also have skin-friendly ingredients such as enzymes and peptides.

C. The Key Difference Between Chemical & Physical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens absorb the adverse UV rays similar to a sponge, whereas physical sunscreens stay on the skin surface and restrict the UV rays at the surface itself.

In earlier times, chemical sunscreens were not a popular choice as they had oxybenzone, a chemical ingredient associated with cellular damage, hormone disruption, and allergic reactions. However, several brands have stopped using it as an active ingredient. The new formulations are considered effective in preventing sun damage.

Most dermatologists and skin experts recommend using both chemical and physical sunscreens. The advice holds true only when your skin type is suitable for both types of sunscreens. Both types provide you with an inner and outer shield from the harmful sun rays.

A study indicated that physical sunscreens should have zinc oxide as the active ingredient rather than titanium dioxide. Zinc is suitable for most skin types as it is well tolerated and anti-allergic, especially for sensitive skin. Additionally, it provides a wide-range protective layer from UV A rays, whereas titanium dioxide is less effective in blocking UV A rays.

But as you also need protection from UV B rays, the efficacy of chemical blockers comes into play. If your skin type is able to adjust to both forms, then you may try using a combination formulation [3] to get the best protection from UV A and UV B rays.

Important Note:

Just as it is imperative to choose a good formulation, it is equally important to know the expiry date of your sunscreen.

If the sunscreen that you have been using has already expired or the active ingredients have somehow been exposed to direct sunlight, then they can degrade and break down. This will render the sunscreen ineffectual and irritating to your skin.

What Is A Broad Spectrum Sunscreen?

woman with sun protection cream

While SPF only shields from UV B rays, these are not alone in harming your skin. In fact, UV A rays are responsible for causing your skin long-term damage such as wrinkles and aging. Worryingly, they can cause severe damage before causing you skin burn. Hence, just protection from UV B rays isn’t enough in shielding you from various types of sun damage. Here is when broad spectrum sunscreens enter the bigger picture.

Broad spectrum sunscreen provides your skin equal protection from both UV A and B rays [4]. They are also commonly known as full spectrum sunscreens. Nowadays, these are widely recommended by many skin experts and dermatologists.

Sunscreen doesn’t effectively protect your skin from various types of sun damage.

How To Choose The Right Sunscreen?

Whether you opt for a chemical or physical sunscreen, there are various factors to consider on the label. Dermatologists recommend that you look for the following factors:

  • SPF factor of at least 30 or above
  • Paraben-free
  • Oil-free
  • Non Comedogenic (so they don’t clog pores and cause acne)
  • Fragrance-free
  • Broad spectrum (for protection from both UV A and B rays)

Several factors determine the type of sunscreen you must use. Given the different skin types each person has, even Ayurveda recommends choosing a product suited to your prakriti, skin type and specific needs. You may follow a few basic guidelines to keep your skin radiant, healthy, and shielded from sun damage. These include:

1. Check For Active Ingredients

Widely researched for effectiveness and clinical safety are the physical sunscreens that contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. You can easily find a suitable formulation at a drugstore or skincare store. If you are looking for a chemical sunscreen, then try and avoid using a formulation containing oxybenzone.

2. Opt For Sunscreen Lotions

Even though spray sunscreens are easier to travel with and more convenient, try to use a lotion-based formulation to minimize inhalation of the active ingredients.

3. Consider Your Usage

If you are planning to stay longer in direct sunlight, then using a mineral sunscreen is best suited for your needs, especially if you have existing skin issues such as sensitive skin type, rosacea, or acne breakouts. If you tend to sweat excessively or plan to take a dip in the swimming pool, then you might consider using a chemical sunscreen.

4. Don’t Obsess Over SPF Numbers

The SPF numbers may cause a false perception about safety and lead to misuse. It is always advised to properly apply a low rated SPF sunscreen rather than relying on substandard application of a high rated SPF sunscreen.

5. Apply Sunscreen Properly

Remember to apply an even layer of physical sunscreen for immediate protection against sun damage. Similarly, apply a chemical sunscreen at least 25-30 minutes in advance before stepping outside in direct sunlight.

6. Remember To Reapply

All types of sunscreens tend to wear off, making you susceptible to sun damage. Hence, it is imperative to reapply your sunscreen at least every 2-3 hours. This step is especially important when you go for a swim or sweat with mineral sunscreens. Also, the reapplication step holds true when you are exposed to direct sunlight and have been using chemical sunscreens.

7. Never Skip Applying Sunscreen

Any type of sunscreen application is always considered better than no sunscreen for shielding your skin from sun damage.

How Should You Apply Sunscreen?

1. Right Quantity Of Sunscreen

The most important point to consider while applying your sunscreen is to use sufficient quantity of the product. Dermatologists and skin experts have observed that many individuals only apply around 25 – 50% of the recommended quantity of sunscreen.

Tests involving SPF value are determined by the presence of two milligrams of sunscreen for one square centimeter of your skin’s surface. To further simplify, this value equates to approximately a coin-sized quantity of sunscreen for your face, and 2-3 tablespoons of sunscreen for the rest of your body.

2. Proper Coverage & Even Application

Ensure that every exposed area of your body is shielded from sun damage, including your lips, nose, ears, neck, and feet. If you are using an aerosol-type sunscreen, then the quantity for even application is not easy to determine. This type of sunscreen is difficult to manage, as improper application and windy weather may leave your skin unprotected.

3. Right Amount Of SPF

As a general rule of thumb, SPF value less than 15 provides mild protection, SPF value 15-30 provides moderate protection, and a SPF value higher than 30 provides high protection.

A normal individual is safe using sunscreen with SPF 30, when they apply it in sufficient quantity and reapply repetitively. However, this can’t be the universal rule for everyone. Identifying and using a suitable sunscreen primarily depends on your skin type and specific needs.

SPF 15 sunscreens effectively block at least 93% of the UV B rays. On the other hand, SPF 30 sunscreens block 97% of the UV B rays and SPF 50 sunscreens block 98%. These values may appear insignificant, however; if you have a family history of skin cancer, or are photosensitive, these minor percentages will make a huge difference.

One of the biggest misconceptions about SPF is that a higher value means higher and better protection from sun damage. When you apply sunscreen as instructed in an ideal environment, with a stable intensity of UV B rays, fair climatic conditions, and no other external triggers to deviate the sunscreen efficacy, this may hold true. However, ideal conditions are rare and often coupled with additional factors like sweating and rain, which reduce the strength of SPF.

Most dermatologists and skin experts suggest that no sunscreen can provide you protection against sun damage for more than two hours.

What Is The Difference Between SPF 30 & SPF 50?

spf 30 and spf 50 for uv protection

Now, let us understand the difference between the SPF values, for example SPF 30 and SPF 50. The difference centers down to the extent of UV B rays which a sunscreen can effectively block. A sunscreen with 15 SPF value will shield against 93% of the UV B rays. This SPF value is commonly seen in skincare and makeup products. Although, the common industry standard for sunscreen is usually SPF 30 or higher.

A SPF 30 sunscreen will shield you from 97% of the UV B rays, whereas a SPF 50 sunscreen will offer you 98% protection from the UV B rays.

Any sunscreen above SPF 50 will make a small difference in protection against sun damage. Additionally, no sunscreens can shield you 100% from UV B rays.

Pros & Cons Of Wearing Sunscreen

A. Pros of Wearing Sunscreen

1. Avoid Long-Term Health Issues

Dermatologists and skin experts strongly recommend using sunscreen on a daily basis for preventing the risk of health issues, like melanoma and skin cancer.

Skin cancer has become a prevalent health concern in many countries. This is triggered by direct exposure to harmful UV rays. Even 15 minutes of sun exposure may cause your skin sun damage. You may mitigate the risk of skin cancer by applying your sunscreen regularly.

2. Youthful & Flawless Skin

Sun damage may cause sunburn, tan, age spots, wrinkles, and fine lines. By making sunscreen an essential part of your daily skincare regime, you can protect your skin from early signs of aging.

Most dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with SPF 30 or above which effectively shields your skin from both UV A and B rays. Always reapply your sunscreen in two hours for better protection.

B. Cons Of Wearing Sunscreen

1. Expensive

The highly recommended and popular sunscreens are quite expensive for daily use. Hence, application of sunscreen for an entire family may burn a hole in your pocket.

2. Heavy & Dense Formulation

Several sunscreen formulations are heavy, greasy and dense in composition. This can leave a heavy, sticky layer on your skin post application. Alternatively, using an aerosol-type sunscreen can give you a spotty coverage. A rub-on sunscreen usually makes your face unnaturally shiny.

3. Clogged Pores

If you already have acne, or oily skin type, then your condition may worsen due to thick, dense sunscreen formulations. Clogged pores may only lead to other skin issues.

4. Waiting Time

After you apply your sunscreen, you may be required to wait before heading outside.

5. May Be Harmful

A few skin experts believe that specific chemical ingredients present in sunscreens may cause you further health issues.

Vedix Tip: Before you or your child start using a sunscreen, our advice is to first consult a knowledgeable dermatologist to know which type of sunscreen will suit your skin type and specific needs.

The Last Word

Sunscreen is an effective way of protecting your skin from the sun’s adverse rays. By taking simple and effective measures, you can safeguard yourself from sunburn, reddening of your skin, and various other sun damage.

Most dermatologists recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen which has an SPF value of 30 or above. Additionally, you can follow few sun-protective guidelines like staying indoors during the peak time, and wearing protective layering of clothes, sunglasses, and wide-brimmed hats to cover your exposed areas.

Know Your Dosha Now

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