Summer has officially arrived, and with it comes the desire to participate in all kinds of fun outdoor activities. We all know how important it is to wear sunscreen when subjecting ourselves to prolonged sun exposure, but it’s easy to get confused by all of the different labels and claims made by different sunscreens. So here is a helpful guide that will explain the meaning behind some of those labels, and help you choose the right sunscreen for your skin type.
UVA and UVB protection
Many sunscreens claim to have broad-spectrum protection, blocking out UVA and UVB rays. But what exactly are they? UVA and UVB rays are a form of ultraviolet radiation that damages the skin. UVB rays are actually what causes the skin to burn, whereas UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply and can cause signs of premature ageing. UVA rays can also exacerbate the carcinogenic effects of UVB rays, and are increasingly being seen as a cause of skin cancer on their own.
SPF levels refer to the ability of a sunscreen to shield the skin from UVB rays.
While the difference between say, SPF 30 and SPF 50 may seem significant, it actually isn’t in terms of sun protection. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, SPF 30 filters out approximately 97 per cent of UVB rays, and SPF 50 filters out 98 per cent of UVB rays.
Chemical vs physical
There are two types of sunscreen: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that act to filter and reduce the penetration of the sun’s rays to the skin, whereas physical sunscreens (often referred to as sunblocks) contain ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that physically block the rays.
This means that physical sunscreens can offer better sun protection than chemical sunscreens. However, physical sunscreens tend to leave a chalky, white film on the skin, which many people find unattractive. For this reason, many sunscreens now contain a combination of physical and chemical ingredients, resulting in optimal sun protection without disfiguring the appearance.
Sunscreen and skin type
While research suggests that darker skin is less prone to sunburn and skin cancer due to its higher melanin content, this does not mean that those with dark skin should not wear sunscreen. Those with dark skin should simply avoid physical sunscreens (especially those containing titanium dioxide), as they tend to cause an ashy effect on the skin. Instead, stick to broad-spectrum chemical sunscreens of at least SPF 15+.
Fair skin tends to be much more prone to skin cancer. Therefore, those with fair skin are encouraged to wear a sunscreen of at least SPF 30+ (preferably one with physical components), which should be re-applied every two hours.
For those with sensitive or acne-prone skin, finding the right sunscreen can often be a problem. Many sunscreens tend to be greasy (causing breakouts), and there are a number of chemicals used in sunscreen that can aggravate sensitive skin.