It’s official - we are putting an end to the fight of whether or not sunscreen is as important as they are said to be. One of the most debated skincare products, it’s time to expose the truth. To do so, we pulled out some facts and have accordingly listed everything you will need to know to understand the functions, composition, and usage of sunscreen. We have also briefed some common terms that you find on the sunscreen labels so that next time you can shop smart while picking a sunscreen. Start pulling out your SPF already!
How does sunscreen work?
Think of sunscreen as a door that needs to be knocked on before entering the room. Sunscreen is a mixture of organic and inorganic chemical molecules that will absorb and filter the light that will reach your skin. The organic molecules in the sunscreen absorb ultraviolet sun rays and release them in the form of heat. By absorbing and filtering harmful light, sunscreen helps us prevent skin cancer, sunburn, pigmentation, tanning, and much more.
Are they really as important as they say it is?
You must have heard this numerous times but let’s have a look at this again on how does sunscreen benefit us:
- Sunscreen saves you from the damage that the UVA and UVB rays could cause to your blood vessels and even cell DNA.
- Using sunscreen will block the rays from mutating the cell’s growth cycle that can cause skin cancer.
- Sunscreen prevents hyperpigmentation, freckles, and tanning that can be caused due to sunburn.
- Your skin ages faster in the presence of damaging substances like dust, pollution, harmful sun rays that invite free radicals to your skin. Sunscreen acts as a shield from all of this to ensure your skin’s barrier isn’t harmed and you don’t face premature ageing.
What are the types of ultraviolet rays that can harm us every day?
Before jumping into how to read the label of sunscreen, let’s understand the type of sun rays that are affecting you and how are they affecting you:
1. Ultraviolet A
Ultraviolet A (UVA) is the sunray that has a longer wavelength which means that it can penetrate deep into your skin. Since they can penetrate deep into your skin, it destroys the skin cells and destroys collagen and elastin responsible for that firm and toned youthful skin. So if you have fine lines and wrinkles then UVA is to be blamed. Along with premature ageing, UVA also penetrates deep within the cells to damage your cell’s DNA that maintains the structure and health of the skin cells. It is obvious that even for skin cancer, UVA is responsible just as stated by an article on National Center For Biotechnology Information which states the effect that UV rays have on our skin.
2. Ultraviolet B
Ultraviolet B (UVB) is the sunray with a shorter wavelength, which means it can’t penetrate deep within your skin but can cause major damage to your epidermis (outermost skin layer). UVB causes hyperpigmentation. Damaging your skin’s barrier and structure, freckles, dark spots, sunburn, and much more. Basically, UVB burns your skin while UVA not just burns your skin but also damages the skin’s deepest layer to cause premature ageing.
There is a third type of ultraviolet ray called UVC but they can’t penetrate the ozone layer of the Earth so we don’t need to worry about them.
How to read the labels while buying Sunscreen?
Sunscreen labels have different terms and with more and more variations available, it just gets difficult to pick one. Here are some of the terms that you will spot on the sunscreen labels:
PA stands for Protection Grade of UVA rays. This started in Japan through a test called Persistent Pigment Darkening Method or PPD that measures the time it takes for skin to tan. PA on the label means it will protect you from tanning due to UVA.
2. Plus sign (+)
Plus signs are generally spotted in front of the PA. This sign shows the intensity at which it will protect you from the damage that UVA can cause. So the more the plus signs, the greater the UVA protection for your skin.
There are chances that you might spot broad spectrum instead of PA on your label. They both mean the same thing. Broad-spectrum means overall protection from UVA and UVB rays. If you spot a broad spectrum and no PA on your sunscreen label, it doesn’t mean that your sunscreen is inefficient. Both the terms mean the same but the difference is in the labeling language between American, European countries, and Asian countries like Japan, Korea.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. According to the US FDA, this means how much protection your skin can be offered from UVB rays. Let’s say that your skin burns in 5 minutes. If you apply SPF 30 then it can protect your skin from UVB rays for the next 150 minutes approximately. Basically 30 times more protection. This is why when you’re wearing makeup then you should prefer wearing a higher SPF. Let’s say your skin burns in 5 minutes and you have to wear makeup for the next 4-5 hours. If you wear SPF 50 then it will protect your skin for the next 250 minutes (50 times more protection) which is approximately 4 hours.
For someone with sensitive skin who is prone to sunburns, Sublime recommends Qurez Mattifying Spf 50 Sunscreen With Vitamin E & Matcha Green Tea that has SPF 50 and also Aloe Vera, Vitamin E, and Matcha Green Tea that helps you fight the free radicals.
Read more about free radicals here.
How much to apply and how often you must re-apply?
There’s a huge debate on the internet on how much sunscreen is enough sunscreen. Let’s make this simple. According to our in-house experts, stick to the two fingers rule. Two fingers to cover your face, two for your ears, two for your neck. For covering the whole body, you need one full shot of sunscreen. So around 25-30 ml for your body.
Coming to the topic of how often you must re-apply, it depends on the SPF strength of your sunscreen and the weather that you’re in. If you’re staying indoors then you don’t need a higher PA strength. If you’re active and step out often, then you need a higher PA and SPF strength. The higher the SPF strength, the less time you need to re-apply. It is ideal to re-apply it after every two to three hours. However, if you’re staying indoors and using a higher SPF then you can re-apply after four to five hours.
A good heavy-duty sunscreen for an active person, Sublime recommends Dr Sheth's Oat And Zinc Mineral Sunscreen that has SPF 53 with PA ++++ which means greater protection from UVA rays and is formulated to protect you from blue light damage too.
If you tend to stay indoors more, then Sublime recommends Coccoon Restoring Day Cream With Vitamin C Kakadu Plum And Witch Hazel that not just nourishes your skin and protect it from free radicals but also has SPF 15.
What are some of the common sunscreen mistakes one makes?
1. Using an old and expired sunscreen
Yes, sunscreens expire. The chemical formulation will lose its potency which means applying that expired tube of sunscreen will not do you any good. It is also possible that your sunscreen may not have expired but the formulation has turned into separated clumps. This is because your sunscreen has seen frequent changes in temperature- heat to cold. So rethink before traveling your tube from home to office and office to home. Keep a separate tube for home and another at the office to re-apply.
To learn more on how to read labels, read this!
2. Applying sunscreen after stepping out
If you apply sunscreen after stepping out then that defeats the purpose of stopping the harmful rays from hitting your skin. Make it a ritual to apply sunscreen for at least 20 minutes before stepping out. This allows the sunscreen to settle and form a protective film over your skin before you hit the sun.
3. Forgetting to re-apply
This is one of the most common mistakes that we catch ourselves with. As we explained earlier, sunscreen cannot work for long hours. You must have an SPF film on your face throughout the day and for that after every two hours, you must reapply. On days when you don’t re-apply, your skin will be exposed to harmful rays after a couple of hours which will lead to some serious damage.
A small guide to keeping your makeup in place and at the same time applying SPF is by using a tinted SPF like Ozone Signature Natural Sun Protector that has SPF 20 and has hydrating ingredients like Almond oil, Aloe Vera, and Oats.
For re-applying throughout the day, Sublime recommends a loose powder that has SPF in it like Sandiva Spf Top-up Loose Powder With Sandalwood that has SPF 30 and PA ++++ to give you broad-spectrum protection from harmful sun rays.
Sunscreen is very important for your skin throughout the year. We often convince ourselves that we can skip sunscreen indoors or when the weather is not too sunny. However, that is not the case. To protect our skin from UV rays, free radicals, dirt, and pollution, we must wear and reapply sunscreen throughout the day. The facts clearly point that just how much water is important to maintain good skin, sunscreen is equally important!