Sunscreen is a crucial element in any daily skincare routine. Whether you’re planning a long day outdoors or simply popping out for a quick walk, it’s important to protect your skin.
Energy from the sun penetrates the earth’s atmosphere in the form of visible, infrared, and ultraviolet (UV) rays. There are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. The atmosphere absorbs UVC wavelengths, but both UVA and UVB rays can reach the surface of the earth. Exposure to either type can damage the skin and increase your risk for developing skin cancer.
Skin damage caused by UVA rays usually takes the form of wrinkles, loss of skin elasticity, and other signs of aging. UVB rays pose a much higher risk than UVA rays for causing skin cancer. However, UVA rays can increase the damaging effect of UVB.
Other than staying indoors or covering up with clothing, sunscreen is the most effective form of sun protection. Here’s what you need to know about choosing and using sunscreen on your face.
How Does Sunscreen Work?
In the simplest of terms, sunscreen protects your skin from harmful UV rays. There are two types of sunscreens: chemical-blocking and physical-blocking.
Chemical sunscreen blocks UV rays by first absorbing them into the skin and then releasing them. Active chemical ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, and octinoxate are typically used in these products. A physical sunscreen sits on top of the skin to create a physical barrier against UV rays. They reflect UV rays away from the skin, typically with ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide.
Each type has its benefits and drawbacks. Chemical sunscreen absorbs quickly and is more water- and sweat-resistant, but it can potentially clog your pores. Physical sunscreen is gentler on the skin and more moisturizing, but it can be hard for skin to absorb which may result in a noticeable white color.
What Should You Look For?
It’s simple enough to pick up a bottle of sunscreen at your local pharmacy or grocery store, but you want to pay more attention to what you’re buying and purchase a high-quality, professional formula instead. It’s particularly important to use good judgement when choosing a sunscreen that you’re going to use on your face.
Here are a few key things to look for in a sunscreen:
- Choose a sunscreen SPF 30 or higher. An SPF 30 sunscreen allows only 1/30 of UV rays to reach your skin, though SPF 50 sunscreen only allows about 1/50.
- If you have highly acne-prone, oily, or sensitive skin choose a sunscreen made with zinc oxide or titanium oxide. Mineral sunscreens are more tolerable to sensitive skin types.
- Look for a non-comedogenic formula, especially if you have oily or acne-prone skin.
- Choose a higher SPF (like SPF 50 sunscreen versus SPF 15) if you’re taking acne medication or using a prescribed topical treatment.
- If you have dry or dehydrated skin, look for a sunscreen that contains moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid or ceramides.
- For darker skin types, it’s best to avoid mineral sunscreens because they can give your skin a grayish hue. If you can’t tolerate chemical sunscreen, try a tinted mineral sunscreen instead.
- Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen. A broad-spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 or higher is the best way to protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
If you’re concerned about adding another product to your morning skincare routine, you might be tempted to simply switch to a daytime moisturizer that contains SPF.
While using a moisturizer with SPF won’t hurt, dermatologists agree that it isn’t enough to provide comprehensive protection. These moisturizers typically offer SPF 15 or 30 protection, but you’ll only get those benefits if you apply enough of it. Chances are you don’t slather your face in a thick layer of moisturizer before you head out for the day.
It’s also important to note that the moisturizer itself will dilute the SPF. In effect, you may only be getting 10 to 12 SPF out of it. Applying SPF 30+ sunscreen after moisturizing is the best option.
Tips for Applying Sunscreen Correctly
The most important aspect of using sunscreen is choosing one that offers enough SPF protection.
While dermatologists agree that SPF 30 is the minimum you should be using, there’s no harm in a little extra protection. An SPF 30 sunscreen protects you from roughly 96.7% of UVB rays while SPF 50 sunscreen protects you from 98%. This may not seem like much, but it’s a difference of about 1% which means that SPF 30 sunscreen allows 50% more UV rays to reach your skin.
Applying sunscreen is easy enough – you just smooth it onto your skin. If you want to gain the maximum benefit, however, you should follow these simple rules:
- Always apply sunscreen after finishing your skincare routine and before applying makeup.
- Don’t rely on sunscreen sprays or sticks to do the full job. They’re great to give a little extra protection to focused areas, but it’s easy to miss a spot so it’s best to use a lotion or cream formula as your first layer.
- When applying sunscreen over moisturizer, give your skin 5 minutes to dry down between applications.
- Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure to give it time to absorb into your skin.
- Make sure to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours when you’re spending time outdoors. If you’re swimming, look for a water-resistant formula but know you’ll need to reapply more often – about every 40 to 80 minutes.
Limiting your exposure to the sun or covering up when you’re outdoors are the most effective ways to protect your skin from sun damage. With summer finally in full swing, however, we understand that the last thing you want is to stay cooped up inside. Enjoy the summer to its fullest but make sure to wear sunscreen to protect your skin while you do.