Hello, my beauties! Today’s post is another installment of my Skincare Stories series, and it’s all about sunscreen. Now that we’re smack dab in the middle of summer, I thought that sunscreen would be the perfect topic to talk about next!
Sunscreen is an essential part in your morning skincare routine, but I’m willing to bet a lot of people aren’t as diligent with it as they are with other parts of their skincare routine! For my own personal experience, I got burnt from the sun once in my teens, and since then, I’ve always been careful about applying sunscreen while doing outdoor activities. However, I definitely slacked on the “wearing sunscreen every day” front until the last two or three years. We all hear that it’s important to wear sunscreen every day, regardless of whether it’s summer or winter, but a lot of us don’t know why, or how sunscreens even work. That’s what this post is all about!
WHY DO WE HAVE TO WEAR SUNSCREEN?
While we all love spending time in beautiful weather, being exposed to sunlight is not good for us. The ultraviolet (UV) rays coming from the sun causes mutations in humans on a cellular level, which is how we end up with cases of skin cancer. UV rays will also cause your skin to age faster, which is something that beauty lovers like us spend tons of money on each year to prevent! UV rays break down collagen, resulting in fine lines and sagging skin, and it also increases melanin (dark pigments), which will develop into age spots. It’s easier to prevent this damage than it is to treat it; for those of us into beauty, you will end up spending thousands of dollars on skincare trying to reverse the signs of premature aging from sun damage, when using sunscreen could have prevented the aging in the first place.
WHAT IS SPF?
There are two different types of UV rays that cause damage to the skin, UVA and UVB. UVA is the culprit that causes premature aging, and UVB is what causes your skin to burn (think UVA = Aging, UVB = Burning). SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and it protects your skin against these rays.
When you see sunscreens with a rating of SPF 10/30/50, this actually is a measure of the protection you get against sunburn from UVB rays. What about UVA rays? If you see a sunscreen labelled “broad spectrum”, it can protect against both UVA and UVB.
Many Asian brands use the UVA Protection Grade (PA) rating system to measure protection against UVA damage. The PA system ranges from PA+ (lowest level of protection) to PA++++ (highest level of protection); when you see this rating on the packaging along with your usual SPF rating, you know the sunscreen can protect against UVA as well UVB.
WHY WE NEED TO WEAR SUNSCREEN EVERY DAY
You might think that you can put away the SPF once you hit September, and keep it hidden away until April, but sunscreen isn’t just for beachy vacays and festival days. Even during overcast winters, clouds aren’t fully able to protect us from the UV rays, which makes it very important to slather that sunscreen on year ’round.
I used to wear sunscreen only on days I knew I would be spending time outside, and not on an everyday basis. I hated the sticky texture and white cast it gave. My foundation always sat on top of the sunscreen, which gave me total cakeface. Overall, sunscreen was always a mess and I would try to avoid using it unless I was in full exposure to the sun for a longer period of time. Luckily, sunscreen formulas these days have advanced to the point where they have a consistency that more resembles moisturizers rather than the traditional sunscreen consistency. We’re going to talk about this next!
TYPES OF SUNSCREEN
There are two different types of sunscreens: chemical and physical. They each protect the skin from UV rays, but in different ways.
1. Chemical Sunscreens
Chemical sunscreens work by penetrating into your skin and actually allowing the UV rays to hit your skin, but it will convert the rays into heat, which are then released. Chemical sunscreens tend to have a lighter, more spreadable consistency, so they layer much better under makeup.
Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients such as Oxybenzone and Octinoxate. It takes about 10-15 minutes for these ingredients to soak into your skin, so you will have to wait to go into the sun after applying chemical sunscreen.
I mentioned earlier that chemical sunscreens feel a lot nicer on the skin; however, they do come with some cons. Oxybenzone can be irritating to the skin, or can have a stinging sensation when you use it, which means it might not be a good choice for people with sensitive or dry skin. It is also more likely to clog your pores, which may make it unsuitable for blemish-prone skin.
Oxybenzone and Octinoxate have also been proven to be damaging to the environment, particularly when it comes to the bleaching of the coral reefs. Hawaii has actually decided to ban the sale of sunscreens with these two ingredients beginning in 2021 (water-resistant beach sunscreens only, and not daily use sunscreens). If you’re going into the ocean, please remember to use a reef-safe sunscreen!
2. Physical Sunscreens
When people think of traditional sunscreen with the white cast, and thick, sticky feel, they’re most likely thinking of physical sunscreens. This type of sunscreen sits on top of your skin, creating a barrier that bounces the UV rays off your skin. Physical sunscreens contain the ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They are also the culprits that cause that white cast we all hate, because they are literally reflecting the rays off of your skin. Unlike chemical sunscreens, physical sunscreens start protecting your skin the minute they are applied, because they simply sit on top of your skin and act as a shield against sunscreen – there is no time needed for it to absorb into the skin.
Why would anyone choose physical sunscreens over chemical, when chemical sunscreens feel and look so much better on the skin? Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are actually the only ingredients that are FDA-approved, so a lot of people feel like they are putting something on their skin that they know is safe. Physical sunscreens are actually less pore-clogging, and also less likely to cause irritation, which makes physical sunscreens a better choice for those with sensitive or blemish-prone skin. They also have no known effects on the environment, either.
HOW MUCH SUNSCREEN DO YOU NEED TO USE?
A lot of people (including me, for the longest time!) think that a higher SPF means more protection, but that’s only true to a certain point. It’s all about the percentage of rays it lets in! SPF 10 can block 93% of the rays, SPF 30 can block 97%, SPF 50 can block 98%, and the benefits of anything over SPF 50 is negligible. As you can see, there’s not even a huge difference between the protection that SPF 30 and SPF 50 offer. From all of my research, it seems that most dermatologists think that either SPF 30 or 50 will work just fine.
How do we know how much sunscreen we need? I’ve heard that the golden rule is 1/4 tsp of sunscreen for the face, and a shot glass worth of sunscreen on the rest of your body. With that being said, these are simply guidelines, as our faces and bodies are all different sizes. For example, my husband, who is almost a foot taller than me, should obviously be using more sunscreen on his body than me.
To calculate how often you need to reapply sunscreen, some simple math is needed. You take the SPF factor of your sunscreen and multiply it by how long it takes for your skin to burn without any protection. For example, if you’re using an SPF 50 sunscreen and it takes you 10 minutes to burn, you will need to reapply after 500 minutes, or 8 hours (500/60).
With that being said, when I’m doing outdoor activities like hiking, or we’re just spending the day out and about enjoying the sun, I always make sure to reapply every 2-3 hours. The actives in sunscreen break down when exposed to sun, causing it to be less and less effective every hour. If you’re doing something outside that will cause you to get wet, whether it’s going into the pool, or just sweating from activities or heat, you must reapply afterwards. If you’re putting sunscreen on daily in the morning just to head to the office, and you spend the day indoors, my research has shown that you probably shouldn’t need to reapply during the day (or at least I personally don’t – please let me know if you think otherwise!).
HOW TO FIT SUNSCREEN INTO YOUR ROUTINE
On the face, sunscreen should be the last step of your skincare routine, after moisturizer but before makeup.
If you are relying on the sunscreen in your skincare or foundation, it’s better than no coverage, but it’s actually not enough. You probably need at least half a dozen pumps of foundation to fill 1/4 of a teaspoon, which is how much sunscreen you should be using every day. How much foundation do you usually use – 1, maybe 2 pumps? You will look crazy with 6 pumps of foundation on your face!
What is your favourite sunscreen, either for the face or body? I’m always looking for a good sunscreen!