Ensuring your skin is protected from the sun exposure is a must all year round. We all know this fact, but some people think about sun protection only at this time of year. Having this in mind, it is good to remind ourselves that UV rays reach the ground all year round, even on cloudy or hazy days (up to 40% of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation reaches the Earth on a completely cloudy day).
Two types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB, damage the skin, age it prematurely and increase the risk of skin cancer. UVB rays damage the skin’s upper surface and are the main cause of sunburn. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply causing wrinkling, sagging and other signs of aging. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer.
Sunscreen is a product combining several ingredients which we put on our skin to protect it from UV rays. It is just a filter, it does not block UV rays. Every sunscreen should have broad-spectrum protection which means that it is against both UVA and UVB rays.
Depending on the active ingredients, sunscreens can be chemical or physical and there are also combinations of these two.
Chemical sunscreens are those that contain chemicals such as avobenzone and benzophenone. They are absorbers as they work by absorbing UV rays, reducing their penetration into the skin. These formulations are easier to rub into the skin, but chemical sunscreens tend to be more irritating. They should be applied at least 20 minutes before sun exposure to allow the ingredients to bond to the skin.
Physical ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zink oxide are reflectors. They form a protective layer on the skin which deflects UV rays and they protect from the sun as soon as they are applied – no wait necessary. These sunscreens are more natural and skin-friendly, so they are better for people with sensitive skin and those who have any kind of dermatitis, eczema or rosacea. Compared to chemical sunscreens, they offer higher UVA protection, (thus protecting your skin from aging as well), but they tend to leave that thick, white cast on the skin that is unattractive. Nanotechnology is used to grind up zinc oxide and titanium dioxide into smaller nanomolecules to make physical sunscreens more esthetically pleasing to put on. Based on the best available evidence, it is assessed that these nanoparticles do not pose a risk to your health as they remain on the surface of the skin, in the outer layer of the skin that is composed of non-viable cells.
As for the sun protection factor, we should know that SPF number is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB rays from damaging the skin. For example, if your skin starts to redden in 20 min. without sunscreen, an SPF30 will allow you to stay in the sun 30 times longer without getting burned. Many people don’t understand how the SPF scale works thinking that an SPF50 is almost twice as good as SPF30. This is incorrect as the SPF scale works as follows: SPF15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays, SPF30 sunscreens filter out about 97%, SPF50 ones about 98% and SPF100 about 99%. As you can see, the amount of additional sun protection is negligible above SPF30. SPF15 will be sufficient to protect you against brief everyday sun exposures, while SPF30 and above should be used for extended exposures.
The amount of sunscreen you apply is very important. Sunscreens should be applied generously. 5ml (one teaspoon) should be enough for your face, ears, neck and decolletage. Most adults need about 30ml to fully cover their body.
Sunscreens lose effectiveness over time, so bear in mind to reapply at least every two hours and after swimming or heavy sweating. Water-resistant sunscreens should state for which period of time they protect the skin when swimming or sweating. They are good for hot days, when on the beach or while playing sports, but they may be not as good for everyday wear as they are thicker and don’t go well with make-up.
Some sunscreen products can irritate your skin. Many products claim to be hypoallergenic or dermatologist tested, but you can never be sure if a product will irritate your skin unless you try it. Apply a small amount to the soft skin inside your elbow every day for three days and if your skin does not have any reaction, the product is probably safe for you.
Every sunscreen product has the expiration date. Most of them are good for 2 to 3 years, but those that have been exposed to heat for long periods may be less effective.
Sunscreens are available in many forms – there are lotions, creams, gels, ointments, wax sticks…We should choose the one which is the most suitable for our skin type. Also, there has been a continual debate on which sunscreen is better to use-chemical or physical. Both chemical and physical sunscreens are good and safe for use and it is just about finding what best works for you. The kind of sunscreen you use is a matter of personal choice.