What Is Sunscreen and How Does It Work to Protect Your Skin?
Sunscreens are a popular skincare product that usually takes center stage during the summers. But, what is sunscreen? You might have heard the importance of sunscreen during the beach seasons, but with many products out there, many people are confused about what exactly they should choose. Winter or summer, sunny or rain – no matter when – your skin will always be vulnerable to the harmful rays from the sun when outdoors. The best way to protect your skin from harmful UV rays is using an effective sunscreen. Read on to find out everything about sunscreens!
What Is a Sunscreen?
Sunscreen is a skincare product that contains many active ingredients to work against the skin-damaging UV radiation from the sun. These ingredients protect the skin cells and prevent problems such as quick aging or serious diseases. Sunscreens come in various forms, including gels, lotions, creams, oils, sticks, and sprays. Irrespective of the form, most sunscreens offer amazing and effective protection.
What Are the Types of Sunscreens?
You need sunscreen for every weather. But what type of sunscreen should you be using? The two types of sunscreens you need to check out are:
1. Chemical Sunscreens
Chemical sunscreens are the absorbing ones that absorb UV rays reaching the surface of the skin, which are then neutralized. For people with sensitive skin, this formulation might not be perfect since it may cause mild irritations. Also, chemical sunscreens take around 15-20 minutes to work.
Most chemical sunscreens contain a few ingredients: Padimate O, Padimate A, Homosalate, Ecamsule (Mexoryl), Oxybenzone, Octocrylene, Octisalate, Octinoxate, and Avobenzone (Parsol 1789).
2. Physical (Mineral) Sunscreens
Sunscreens that reflex normally are mineral or physical sunscreens—these work by reflecting the UV rays that fall on the skin. Physical sunscreens act as a shield or barrier on the skin once you have a layer of sunscreen on it.
Physical sunscreens are perfect for the sensitive skin of babies and adults as they cause lesser irritation to such skin types while being effective. Also, the cream works immediately once applied though it can make the skin feel slightly thicker. The texture of the cream leaves a white coat on the skin.
The main ingredients used in sunscreens are FDA-approved zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Some sunscreen products also feature a blend of physical and chemical ingredients to provide a more effective and easier product for the application. Such products also help screen a wider spectrum of UV rays, protecting the skin better.
Is It Safe to Use a Sunscreen?
A lot of scientific studies do, in fact, support the regular use of sunscreens to protect the body against skin cancer. Sunscreens play a huge role in protecting the skin from several problems caused by the sun. Sunscreens help:
- Prevent sunburn
- Reduce risk of skin cancer
- Decrease signs of aging
The FDA has approved two common ingredients to be effective and safe when used in sunscreens. These are:
- Titanium dioxide
- Zinc oxide
How Does Sunscreen Work on Skin?
Sunscreens usually work by combining inorganic and organic ingredients that can actively help keep the skin protected from the sun’s harmful UV rays. These also come in many forms, including lotions, liquids, sprays, creams, and powders. But what makes sunscreen work? All of these sunscreens can be broadly classified into chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens, and depending on what suits your skin the best, you can pick one!
How Does Physical Sunscreen Work?
Physical sunscreen contains an inorganic physical UV filter that can reflect the falling sun rays, scatter it, and block it before it reaches the skin. These mineral ingredients in the sunscreens, sometimes called the physical blockers, are designed to stay on top of the skin rather than being absorbed into the epidermis. The best thing about physical sunscreen is that these are less likely to cause irritations and can naturally protect from a wide spectrum of rays.
How Does Chemical Sunscreen Work?
Chemical sunscreens contain active organic ingredients that help absorb the UV rays that fall on the skin. The compounds present in the skin can help catalyze a chemical reaction when the cream is exposed to the rays. In this chemical reaction, the sunscreen transforms the UV rays into heat, and though you may not feel it, the sunscreen will release the transformed heat from the skin. However, UV filters in chemical sunscreens only protect you from either UVA or UVB rays, while physical sunscreens can protect you from both. An advantage of chemical sunscreen is that these formulations are usually thinner, making the sunscreen easier to apply while giving a natural look to your skin.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Sunscreen?
A few reasons why you might want to consider sunscreens every day are:
- It reduces the risk of skin cancer and avoids the development of pre-cancers on the skin.
- It can protect the person from sunburn. Not only are sunburns painful, but they can also cause other problems like skin cancer. Therefore, regular application of sunscreens can defend the skin against these problems.
- Sunscreens can prevent redness and inflammation caused due to staying out in the sun for too long.
- Long exposure to UV rays causes the skin to develop wrinkles, crow’s feet, and fine lines, and one of the best ways to prevent these problems is to use sunscreens, which can also help decrease the visible signs of aging.
- Sunscreens can help prevent hyperpigmentation (uneven skin pigmentation) and blotchy skin.
- Sunlight can sometimes damage the DNA, causing skin photoaging and carcinogenesis. The best way to prevent this is by regularly using a sunscreen every time you step out.
What Is SPF and How Does It Work?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and these are followed by numbers that can show how much time it would take for the rays to burn the epidermis once the product is applied. Therefore, SPF 30 would mean that it would take 30 times longer for the rays to burn your skin when compared to wearing no SPF at all. For example, if your skin, on average, takes around 10 minutes to burn when standing under a light without any sunscreen, SPF 30 can protect you for around 5 hours from the UV rays (30 * 10 = 300 minutes). However, doctors usually recommend reapplying every two hours for maximum benefits.
Exposure to UVB rays from the sunlight can damage the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) by seeping into the skin. The SPF can absorb the UVB rays and reflect it outwards when sunscreen is applied, protecting the skin.
Which SPF Level Is the Best?
How does SPF rating work? Now that is a question most people seek an answer to even if they have been using sunscreens for years.
The number that follows the SPF makes a lot of difference; for example, SPF 15 sunscreens can block around 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 can block above 96.7 % of UV rays allowing 3.3% to reach the skin, while SPF 50 can block around 98% of UV rays allowing only 2 percent to get through. Though the difference seems minimum, SPF 30 does allow twice the percentage of UV rays to pass through compared to SPF 50.
This is why most people recommend going for higher numbers of SPF since not many people will be able to apply the recommended amount of sunscreen to receive protection every day. However, do not let the high numbers fool you into believing that you need to apply only once. It is recommended to reapply the sunscreen every two hours, especially after sweating or swimming.
When and How to Apply a Sunscreen?
The skin has a series of troughs and crests when seen on a microscopic level. This is why it is recommended to layer the cream on at least 20 minutes before going outside since this will provide the product enough time to get into the skin troughs and bind to the skin.
Most sunscreens would suggest reapplying the product once at least every two hours. However, the best way to do it is to reapply around 20-30 minutes later after the first coating. Reapplication after the first coating helps you get much more coverage and effectiveness. The second application will also help you cover the areas you missed the first time.
It is best to apply sunscreens generously since too little quantity might not be that effective when out in the sun.
For adults, it is recommended to use 1 teaspoon of sunscreen for:
- The face, ears, and neck
- Each leg and arm
- Each for the back and the front of the body
This comes to a total of 7 teaspoons when you are out on a beach day! Layer the cream well and spread it evenly. Reapply if you are going for active sports, even if the product claims to be water-resistant. Water-resistant sunscreen usually lasts for up to 40 minutes; hence, apply once 30 minutes before your water-based activity and reapply again right after you finish your activity.
How Long Does a Sunscreen Protect You?
Most sunscreens are completely effective for only about two hours after it has been applied. This is why for protecting your skin throughout the day, you might need to keep reapplying every two hours. Even if you are going out on a rainy or cloudy day, you might still want to carry an SPF 30 or SPF 50 along with you to apply when the sun comes out. However, the answer to the question above is that its effectiveness gets reduced every time you do any activities. So make sure you reapply every time you feel like your protection layer has come off.
Now that you know everything about sunscreens, be sure to take full advantage of this useful product. If the UV index rating is higher, try to spend your time indoors. However, wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat if you have to step outside.