First of all, for those who are not clear about the harmful effects of sun overexposure, it can cause skin cancers. Chronic sun exposure also leads to premature skin aging, also known as photoaging.
You may have heard of words such as UVA and UVB rays, and seen things like SPF, PA, Broad Spectrum Suncreen etc. labeled on sunscreen bottles and they all sound pretty confusing? Sure, what we really want to know is simply, how do we choose the best sunscreen?
We spoke to Dr Michelle Lim from SW1 Clinic on the “A B Cs” of sunscreens.
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s visit the basics. There are 2 major types of sunscreens. The first is a physical sunscreen, which protects your skin from the sun by deflecting or blocking out harmful sun rays, before they enter your skin. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun rays, or by scattering them.
Physical sunscreens contain ingredients such as titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. Titanium dioxide protects against UVB but not all UVA rays. Zinc oxide protects against the entire UVB and UVA spectrum.
Chemical sunscreens protect more against UVA rays than physical sunscreens and should contain at least one of the following ingredients:
Chemical sunscreens must be applied for at least 20 minutes for it to be effective sun protection, whereas physical sunscreens begin to work immediately once you apply them (kinda like wearing a hat!)
What are UVA and UVB rays?
These are the culprits of skin damage caused by the sun. UVB rays are responsible for reddening and burning the superficial layers of the skin. In the past, choosing a good sunscreen involved hunting down a sunscreen with high SPF. We now know that SPF only blocks out UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate much deeper into the skin and is responsible for premature skin aging and wrinkles. In fact, up to 90% of skin aging is probably due to a lifetime’s worth of UVA ray exposure.
In the past, choosing a good sunscreen involved hunting down a sunscreen with high SPF. We now know that SPF only blocks out UVB rays.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
Most people would have heard of SPF in sunscreens at least. SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a measure of your sunscreen’s ability to prevent the sun from damaging your skin.
For example, if your unprotected skin takes approximately 20 minutes to turn red under the sun, then wearing a sunscreen of SPF 15 will take about 15 times longer for your skin to turn red (about 5 hours).
Another way of looking at it is in percentage of UVB rays filtered. It may not be a lot of difference between SPF 15 (93%) and SPF 30 (97%) but if you tend to burn easily then these small percentages matter!
Dr Michelle reminded that that UVA rays do not burn the skin, unlike UVB, so SPF protects against UVB rays, not UVA rays. This means there is no telling how much UVA damage is done. Hence you still need a physical blocker such as zinc oxide and/or chemical filter such as oxybenzone even if your sunscreen lists a fairly effective SPF. With regards to the latter, she recommends sunscreens with an SPF of at least 30, and to reapply every 2 to 3 hours if out in the sun.
Finding The Right Sunscreen To Wear With Makeup
Perhaps the most annoying part of incoporating sunscreen into our daily regime is finding the right sunscreen which works with our daily makeup. Physical sunscreens tend to be thicker and opaque, leaving behind a white tint. These also rub off easily, so they are often more difficult for those who wish to wear this under heavy makeup (imagine smoothing out foundation over sticky white sunscreen!). Titanium dioxide may also cause breakouts, and some chemical filters can irritate skin.
The lesser evil of the two would be chemical sunscreens. Chemical filters such as avobenzone and oxybenzone tend to irritate skin less, so barring skin allergies to these, look for sunscreens with these instead of physical sunscreens if looking for a solution for makeup, advises Dr Michelle. Chemical sunscreens are also usually colourless and odourless, easy to spread, and can sometimes double up as a makeup base or primer.
Sunscreens In Makeup Are Not Enough
For the record, there are people like me who have looked high and low forever for a sunscreen that gives adequate protection and doesn’t break the skin out. Fortunately, I found my silver lining in Japanese sunscreens. These are usually super lightweight and non-oily (mine feels like an emulsion, or a serum!).
And now, the million-dollar question: is sunscreen in makeup enough for daily protection? The answer is No, makeup does not provide enough coverage, unless you apply 7 times the amount of foundation or 14 times the amount of powder.
Shucks. What now? Dr Michelle explains that all is not lost, there is a trick to shielding oneself against the sun and wearing your favorite makeup.
1. Find a Good Sunscreen
Look for a sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30, and which also contains physical and chemical filters. Some lightweight sunscreens combine zinc oxide with chemical sunscreens like oxybenzone and these work best under makeup with broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection.
“Apply your sunscreen after your moisturizer and leave it on for a few minutes before you start to apply your makeup”, adds Dr Michelle.
2. Use a foundation with SPF 30 or higher
Remember that makeup with sunscreen alone are not enough. “You can apply a moisturiser and then sunscreen, or a moisturiser that contains sunscreen, and then layer with makeup that contains sunscreen.” says Dr Michelle. Note that wearing an SPF 30 moisturiser and then applying an SPF 30 makeup does not mean you get SPF 60 protection though, it just means you have more thoroughly protected your skin for as long as the SPF 30 does.
3. Apply and reapply powder during the day
Dr Michelle admits that she hasn’t met anyone who washes off their makeup every 2 to 3 hours to reapply sunscreen.
“Powder keeps the sunscreen in place”, says Dr Michelle. “These also can contain SPF and dusting an SPF powder after sunscreen and makeup can help instead, if reapplying sunscreen is not convenient or an option at all”.