A full guide on how to choose sunscreen, what SPF means and which one you need, why it is important that your sunscreen is broad spectrum, what the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen is, how to apply sunscreen…
When it comes to our skin, the only thing that sounds scarier than photoaging is skin cancer. Of course we all want to stay healthy and youthful for as long as we can. So, it is crucial to protect our skin against the UV rays every single day of the year, and especially during summer.
However, if you go to a drugstore right now and try to find a sunscreen that will perfectly suit your needs, you may be in for a head spin.
Should you go for a mineral or chemical sunscreen? Lotion, powder or stick? Which SPF? For how long it will protect you? Will it clog your pores and cause breakouts? And how to properly apply a sunscreen?
I’ll try here to answer at least some of your questions and help you a bit with your decision.
What is SPF?
SPF (sun protection factor) can be a bit tricky to explain. Here’s the simplest explanation:
SPF is a measure that tells you how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from the sun. SPF number refers to the percentage of UVB rays that the sunscreen is capable to block. For example, SPF 15 sunscreen will block 93% of the UVB rays, while 7% will reach the skin. SPF 30 will block 97% UVB rays and 3% will go through it etc.
Though at first glance this seems like a small difference, note that SPF 30 will block around 50% of the UVB rays that would go through SPF 15.
Now, the more UVB rays reach your skin, the faster it gets red, burned and damaged. So, SPF number also indicates how much longer it takes for your skin to become red in the sun compared to when you are not wearing a sunscreen.
So, if your skin gets red in 10 minutes, with SPF 15 it will get red in 15 x 10 = 150 minutes. With SPF 30, it will get red in 5 hours (30 x 10 = 300 min), etc.
However, this does not mean you can apply SPF 30 sunscreen and stay in the sun for 5 hours!
You still need to reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours and stay out of the sun as much as you can.
Use Broad Spectrum Sunscreen for both UVB and UVA Protection
SPF value can give you some idea on how protective your sunscreen is. However, SPF only refers to protection against UVB rays. That is why you should look for a sunscreen labeled as broad spectrum, which means it protects your skin against both UVB and UVA rays.
Both UVB and UVA rays are damaging to your skin and they have both been linked with skin cancer. UVB are also known for causing sunburns. UVA are the ones responsible for skin’s premature aging signs, like wrinkles, fine lines and dark spots.
Broad spectrum sunscreen protects your skin against both UVB and UVA rays. You should be applying it every single day of the year, no matter how sunny or cloudy it is.
Mineral and Chemical Sunscreens
When choosing a sunscreen, one of the most important questions you’ll have to ask yourself is whether you want your sunscreen to be mineral or chemical.
Mineral (physical) sunscreens usually contain zinc-oxide or titanium dioxide. These active mineral compounds protect your skin against the sun rays by sitting on top of your skin and physically deflecting the UV rays from your skin.
Mineral sunscreen is a better choice if you have sensitive skin, rosacea or if your skin easily flushes. Also, it is less likely to clog your pores than chemical sunscreen, so it will better suit an acne and blemishes prone skin.
Mineral sunscreen starts to protect your skin as soon as it is applied, so you don’t have to worry about remembering to apply it 20 minutes before leaving your house.
Another great advantage is that, unlike chemical sunscreens, you can apply mineral sunscreen over your makeup. This makes it much easier to reapply – just brush on some sun protective mineral powder every two hours.
The biggest disadvantage of mineral sunscreens is that they tend to be thick, chalky and can leave a whitish cast on the skin. This makes them kind of impractical for day-to-day use.
Chemical sunscreens are based on organic ingredients, such as oxybenzone or avobenzone. They create a chemical reaction that changes UV rays into heat. Then they release that heat from your skin.
Since chemical sunscreens are more lightweight than mineral sunscreens, they look and feel more natural on the skin. They are also easier to wear under makeup, which makes them perfect for everyday usage.
However, chemical sunscreens are more likely to cause sensitive reactions and skin irritations. When you apply it, it takes 10 – 30 minutes for it to start working. It has to be the first thing that goes onto your skin (that is, before moisturizer, makeup, etc.) so you can’t just reapply chemical sunscreen over your makeup. Plus, if you have brown spots and discolorations on your skin, chemical sunscreens can make them worse.
What Form of Sunscreen to Choose
Another question you’ll have to ask yourself is in which form you want your sunscreen to be. In this day and age, you can find sunscreens in form of lotion, gel, spray, stick, powder, oil…
Basically, this part is completely up to your preferences and what works best for you. Try out as many as possible. It may take you some time to find your perfect match, but we are talking about a product you should be using every single day, so the effort definitely pays off.
Most people feel most comfortable with lightweight moisturizing lotion sunscreens. Hopefully, you’ll find a quality sun protective lotion that blends well with your skin, so that you pretty much can’t feel it and it doesn’t make your face too shiny.
The problem with spray sunscreens is that most people don’t apply enough of it for true protection. Plus, sprays tend to be applied inconsistently.
Oils can be heavy and too shiny for daily usage. Sticks can be very comedogenic, plus you usually need to apply 3 – 4 layers to apply enough of it.
How to Properly Apply Sunscreen
Depending on the form and texture, there are small variations regarding when and how you should apply your sunscreen. That is why it is always best to follow the instructions on the label.
What’s common to all of them is that you should apply a sunscreen to a clean skin. Otherwise, you will trap all the sebum and bacteria under the sunscreen for the rest of the day.
Of course, this rule is hard to follow when you need to reapply the sunscreen later on, especially if you’re wearing makeup. But at least start things right in the morning and wash everything off as soon as you are done with the sun for that day.
One of the most common questions is whether you should apply your sunscreen over or under your makeup. Usually, after washing your face, you should first apply your face cream, then sunscreen (if it is mineral) and makeup goes on top. You should also give your skin around 10 minutes to absorb each product before applying the next one.
But, as we already said, mineral sunscreens can be chalky and don’t look pretty under your makeup. And chemical sunscreen is hard to reapply during the day, since it has to be the first thing that goes to your skin.
Here’s my perfect solution that works best for me: I use both mineral and chemical sunscreens. In the morning, I apply a lightweight moisturizing chemical sunscreen under my foundation. And every time I need to reapply, I just dust on a mineral sunscreen powder over my makeup.
It is also important to apply enough of the sunscreen, otherwise it won’t work near as well as it should. Usually, an average adult would need around 6 full teaspoons of sunscreen to cover the whole body.
A Few More Things to Consider
Sunscreen is an amazing skincare product. It protects your skin against the damaging effect of the UV rays, helps prevent skin cancer and delays wrinkles, fine lines, dark spots and other aging signs.
It is a great product you should be using every single day of the year. Both on sunny and cloudy days. Whether you’ll be spending the day at the beach or for a short walk to work.
Finding a sunscreen that will completely suit you can take you some time, but that time will be well spent if you end up with your perfect product. So, make sure to try out as many products and as many combinations as you can until you are completely happy with your choice.
On top of something that will protect you from the sun, make sure to choose a sunscreen that matches your skin type and lifestyle. Sunscreen is a product you have to incorporate into many aspects of your day, so you need it to be your friend no matter where you are, what you are doing or what you are wearing.
And last but not least – sunscreen, no matter how quality it is, is not some magical shield. You still need to act responsibly when you are out and about. Especially during the summer months, always wear enough protective clothes, a hat and sunglasses. And, of course, try to stay out of the sun as much as you can.