The complete guide to sunscreen
An essential part of every skincare routine, sunscreen helps protect your skin from damaging UVA and UVB rays. When used correctly year-round, sunscreen is proven to decrease your risk of skin cancers and precancers. It also helps prevent premature skin aging caused by the sun, such as wrinkles, sagging, and age spots. Sun protection, like sunscreen, is crucial for all skin types and ethnicities.
What are the benefits of using sunscreen?
In addition to protecting the skin against cancers and premature aging, sunscreen also:
- Protects against sunburns. UVB rays are responsible for sunburns and cause most skin cancers. Not only are sunburns painful, but they are directly linked to the most deadly types of skin cancer, such as melanoma. Even a single sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer. Sunscreen defends the skin against harmful UV rays by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight.
- Reduces the risk of hyperpigmentation. Sun exposure can discolor and darken the skin, causing uneven skin pigmentation. These dark spots may pop up on the face, hands, and other body parts regularly exposed to the sun. Wearing sunscreen, rain or shine, can help protect the skin against hyperpigmentation.
- Stops DNA damage. Numerous studies have shown that sunlight induces DNA damage, triggering photoaging and carcinogenesis. UV rays can penetrate through window glass and clouds. That’s why it’s essential to wear sunscreen on all exposed areas of the skin, no matter the weather or setting.
Chemical vs. physical sunscreens
Two main types of sunscreen exist — physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens consist of mineral ingredients, like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, that sit on top of the skin and black rays at the surface. Chemical sunscreens contain organic compounds, such as octinoxate and avobenzone, that are absorbed into the skin and act as a sponge to absorb harmful UV rays. Both are safe and effective at protecting the skin from sun exposure.
What does SPF mean?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. This is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect the skin from UVB rays, which cause sunburns, damage skin, and increase the risk of skin cancer. For best protection, dermatologists recommend using a minimum SPF of 30. What does this mean exactly? Suppose your skin normally begins to burn after 10 minutes in full sun without any protection. A 30 SPF sunscreen provides 30 times the protection of no sunscreen, allowing about three percent of UVB rays to hit your skin. Always look for a sunscreen that contains broad-spectrum SPF protection, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
When to apply sunscreen, and how much to use
Apply sunscreen initially 15 minutes before going out into the sun to give it a chance to work. Reapply sunscreen after every two hours at a minimum but more frequently if you're sweating or are wet from swimming. When reapplying, always use one ounce of sunscreen on your entire body. This is enough to fill approximately one shot glass. Add half a teaspoon of sunscreen to your face, which should be enough to fill just the bottom of a shot glass. Be sure to use sunscreen on all bare skin.
Things to consider before buying sunscreen
When choosing a sunscreen, look for the following things:
- A formula that suits your skin type. Sunscreens come in a variety of formulations, such as creams, gels, and lotions. Pick one that works for you. For instance, creams are better for dry skin while gels are ideal for oily skin.
- Water resistance. Even if you don’t plan on going swimming, reach for a water-resistant sunscreen. Why? Because if you get sweaty, the water resistance will keep you covered longer.
- Whether it contains antioxidants. Since the sun depletes your skin’s antioxidants, choose a sunscreen that contains vitamin E and other antioxidants that help protect against environmental damage.
- Whether it's designed for darker skin tones. No matter your skin tone, you should wear sunscreen every day without fail. If you have darker skin, look for a sunscreen that dries invisible without a white cast.
- Sunscreen specifically for your face. Body sunscreen is usually formulated with different ingredients that may irritate the face. That’s why you should use sunscreen specifically designed for your face, like LaserAway Beauty BFF SPF 50+ Broad Spectrum Sunscreen that’s fragrance-free and antioxidant-rich.
Does sunscreen protect 100%?
Even the highest SPF sunscreen can’t protect your skin completely against the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. That’s why it’s important to also wear a wide-brimmed hat and glasses as well as sun-protective clothing in the sun.
1. “10 Myths About Sun Protection,” Cancer Council, n.d.
2. “How Much Sunscreen Do You Really Need to Apply Every Day?,” Allure, June 12, 2021