Ask the doctor: What SPF sunscreen should I use?

Type in the phrase “SPF sunscreen” and thousands of brands will appear in your search results. Each one claiming to provide the best sun protection for your skin. Some state SPF 30, others up to SPF 100++ even! It begs the question, “what SPF sunscreen should I use then?”

“The best type of sunscreen is the one you will use again and again,” says the American Academy of Dermatology

The general recommendation by dermatologists is to make sure the sunscreen offers

  1. SPF of 30 or higher
  2. Broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection for your face
  3. Water-resistance

If possible, opt for a sunscreen with blue light protection to cover all your bases.

Is a high SPF really better for your face and skin?

Although some recommend that SPF 30 is enough, higher SPF would have a higher protection as a high SPF does have its benefits. However, there’s a point where an SPF that’s too high is frankly, pointless (i.e. SPF 100).

So to give yourself adequate coverage without spending unnecessary money, look for an SPF 75 sunscreen.

A high SPF on your sunscreen label says nothing about UVA protection.

What is SPF?

We’ve talked so much about high SPF. But what does it really mean and how does it work?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It is a measure of how well a sunscreen protects against UVB rays. The SPF rating is based on how long it takes to sunburn skin with sunscreen as compared to skin without sunscreen applied. 

Wait, only UVB rays? 

Glad you asked.

Types of UV Rays

There are two basic types of ultraviolet (UV) rays that reach the earth’s surface – UVA and UVB. 

UVB rays

UVB rays are responsible for causing sunburn since it damages the outermost layers of the skin. They also directly damage DNA and cause skin discolouration.

UVA rays

UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin and you cannot feel the effects of UVA rays. They are the cause for deep pigmentation issues and destruction of key substances in the skin that give its firmness and elasticity.

One key difference: UVA penetrates glass much more efficiently than UVB. 

So if you’re looking to protect yourself against UVB rays, sure, a higher SPF helps. But it doesn’t give you the coverage from the silent killer – UVA. 

This is especially so for those who are battling freckles, sun spots and hyperpigmentation. 

A way to tackle that is to fit all the windows in your home, car and office with UVA filters. But… that’s not going to be practical for most people. It’s way too costly and troublesome! 

Introducing, broad spectrum sunscreen, the saviour for your face and skin. It works when you’re both outdoors and indoors.

Harmful Rays in the Visible Light Spectrum

Other than UV rays, sunlight also contains red, orange, yellow, green and blue light rays and many shades of each of these colors. When combined, we see it as “white light”. 

Blue light generally is defined as visible light ranging from 380 to 500 nm. But visible light is much more complex than you think.

blue light protection spf sunscreen

As we know it, the sun contains UVA and UVB rays. And those can be harmful to our skin. But blue light produced from flipping on wall switches and activating our digital devices can worsen pigmentation issues too.

A study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that exposure to blue light resulted in more redness,  inflammation, dark pigment production and premature skin ageing than UVA. 

Blue Light and Its Effect On Skin

Traditional sunscreens do not protect skin from Blue Light damage.

It has been scientifically proven that daily exposure to Blue Light leads to hyperpigmentation, premature skin ageing, sagging and wrinkled skin and worsens melasma.

What Does a Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Do?

To ensure adequate protection against damage to skin, look for a sunscreen labelled “broad spectrum” which protects from UVA, UVB, Blue Light and Pollution.

Only products that have been clinically tested are permitted to make these claims.

CHECKPOINT

Now you know that a good sunscreen should contain SPF 50+ and have broad spectrum properties to protect skin from UVA/UVB, Blue Light and Pollution.

Before you run into the beauty section of any health and beauty retailer and get confused by the dozens of sunscreens, it’s good to know the different types of sunscreens available.

Different Types of Sunscreen

Here’s a quick rundown on how sunscreens work: Active ingredients in sunscreens work by creating filters that keep harmful UV rays from penetrating the skin. 

And there are two types of sunscreens that provide such protection – mineral sunscreens and chemical sunscreens. Each type uses a different mechanism for filtering UV rays and protecting the skin from damage.

Mineral Sunscreen (aka Physical Sunblock)

Physical sunscreens are also known as sunblock. 

Sunblock literally works like a shield. It sits on the surface of your skin to deflect and scatter the sun’s rays like tiny mirrors. They normally contain the active ingredients of zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.

Also, because mineral sunscreens create a physical barrier, they are effective as soon as they are applied, so there is no need to wait for any absorption to occur.

Pros: Effective immediately, will not clog pores
Cons: Frequent reapplication is needed, may leave a white cast on the skin

Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens act like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays.

Chemical sunscreens are absorbed into your skin and sit in the deeper layers. They absorb UV rays and change them into heat, then release the heat from the skin.

These sunscreens normally contain one or more of these active ingredients; oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, octisalate, homosalate.

Pros: Less product is needed per application to offer protection, it’s thinner and easier to spread on the skin, applies invisibly
Cons: Requires time to be effective, frequent reapplication required

Chemical Sunscreen Safety

If you’re one of those who’re concerned about the safety of your body absorbing chemicals…

Good news, they are COMPLETELY safe for use, cites this American Journal of Medicine study. The organic sunscreen filters have been tested and approved in trials by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Crystal Tomato’s Beyond Sun Protection offers the ultimate sun protection by combining both Mineral and Chemical active ingredients in its formulation. You get 2 – a physical sunblock and a chemical sunscreen, in one Beyond Sun Protection.

Which Type of Sunscreen is the Best for your skin type?

Sensitive skin type

Cream or lotion sunscreens are the best for those with sensitive skin, especially on the face. Opt for a sunscreen labelled “non-comedogenic”.

Oily skin type

Make sure to look for oil-free, non-comedogenic, non-acnegenic sunscreens to avoid breakouts and clogged pores.  

Dry Touch and light-weight creams are great since they do not leave an oily residue on the skin. 

Look for sunscreens that provide good hydration, even oily skin needs hydration. Greasy and sticky sunscreens trap environmental dust and dirt, select a sunscreen that leaves a dry touch on skin. 

Dry skin type

Chemical sunscreens that are cream or lotion-based are the best for this skin type. It can absorb well while providing hydrating properties for the skin but make sure it is non-greasy.

People with hyperpigmentation issues should wear sunblock that protects not only UVA/UVB but also blue light plus skin whitening functionality.

That said, the act of applying sunscreen alone is not enough. 

Why? Because if you don’t sufficiently apply it to cover the entire exposed area, it won’t give you the complete protection that your skin needs.

Plus, there is a chance you might wipe it off accidentally or wash it off during swimming and perspiration. So there’s a need for it to be water-resistant. Water Resistant sunscreen has to be effective up to 40 minutes in water.

UV Light and Skin Damage

Sun Burn

Sunburns are the most common negative side effect of prolonged sun exposure. The maximum symptoms of sunburn usually appear only after at least four or five hours later.

Symptoms:

  • Redness
  • Tenderness/Pain
  • Swelling
  • Headaches, chills, fever

Freckles

Freckles are small, harmless brown spots that appear on your skin due to overexposure to sunlight. It happens over an extended period of time, not just after a tanning session. 

It is the result of a person’s skin cells producing extra melanin to protect the skin from sun damage. Freckles are often genetic too.

Common places:

  • Face
  • Arms
  • Neck
  • Back
  • Chest

Pro tip: When choosing the best sunscreen for pigmentation, look for one with broad spectrum including blue light protection and with skin whitening properties.

Signs of Ageing

Signs of ageing, such as wrinkling and fine lines, can appear over time as UV rays constantly damage the skin. This is known as photoaging. UVA exposure causes a malfunction and degradation of collagen, resulting in wrinkles and leathery skin. 

Blue Light and Environmental Pollution are also a major cause for premature ageing, dry and sagging skin and worsen melasma.

Heat Rash

Heat rash is a skin rash that occurs when sweat ducts produce perspiration, but it is trapped under the skin. It often takes place in hot, humid weather and commonly looks like red bumps, blisters or clusters of pimples. Heat rash usually appears between skin folds such as elbow creases, behind the knees, on the neck, the groin and under the breasts.

Skin Cancer

The worst consequence of long term exposure to the sun is the development of skin cancer. Generally, the older you are, the greater the risk of developing skin cancer. The three common types of skin cancer are: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma.

Fortunately, much of the damage to our skin caused by sun exposure can be prevented by using good quality sunscreen regularly. 

Making the Best Choice for Sunscreen

Various factors influence the type of sunscreen best suited for your needs. Here are some quick and easy guidelines to keep your skin healthy and protected:

Look at the ingredients

For mineral sunscreens, look for the active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium oxide. For chemical sunscreens, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene or homosalate are the bare minimum. 

Ideally, look for a sunscreen that has both Mineral and Chemical properties to ensure complete protection from sun damage.

Choose creams and lotions

Although spray-on sunscreens can be convenient, it might not give you the amount of coverage you need. Inhaling the particles might also be damaging to your lungs in the long run, research says.

Don’t focus on SPF numbers

The SPF rating can be misleading and result in improper usage. It is far more effective to properly apply a mid-range SPF product (eg. SPF 50) with clinically proven protection and skin benefits rather than a standard high SPF product.  

Reapply often

Sunscreen wears off easily, so make sure you reapply every four to six hourly This is particularly essential when sweating or swimming and being directly under the sun. 

Environmental Pollution 

Scientists have discovered that environmental pollution has very damaging effects on the skin. 

It is the major culprit for hyperpigmentation, dehydrated skin, loss in elasticity resulting in wrinkles and sagging skin and worsens Melasma.

A good sunscreen with Anti-Pollution properties can save your skin from pollution ravages.

How can one be sure with Sunscreens that claim Blue Light Protection, effectively defend skin from Blue Light aggressions?

Most commercial sunscreens claim Blue Light Protection without specifying the percentage of protection.

This is like claiming “SPF without a number!

Blue Light Protection must be minimum 35% to qualify as effective.

Remember to check future blue light sunscreen labels for protection percentage and make sure you verify if the benefits claims are medically proven!

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