STEP 10: SUNSCREEN (Part 2 of 2)
If you haven’t read part 1 please refer to the top link to read about what UV rays are and why it is so important to be wearing sunscreen everyday. This post will cover points 3-7.
- What are UV rays – the difference between UVA and UVB
- Why and when should we apply sunscreen?
- Mineral vs Chemical sunscreen
- What is SPF and the PA/star rating system?
- What type of sunscreen should you look for?
- Sunscreen application
- My sunscreen recommendation
3. Mineral vs Chemical sunscreen
There are primarily 2 different types of sunscreens on the market – mineral and chemical which refer to the active sun protection ingredients/filters.
Mineral sunscreen (aka physical, inorganic) – these type of sunscreens include either ZINC OXIDE, TITANIUM DIOXIDE or both combined.
They work immediately after application and sit on the skin to deflect and block the sun’s rays. Think of them as bouncing off your skin because there is a barrier preventing skin penetration.
Chemical sunscreen (aka organic) – there are a lot more active chemical filters compared to mineral ones and chemical sunscreens typically harness a combination of 2 or more in their formulations.
The most common types include: OXYBENZONE*, OCTINOXATE* (aka ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate), HOMOSALATE*, AVOBENZONE, OCTISALATE and OCTOCRYLENE.
(*These are controversial ingredients which I will cover more about below in ‘What type of sunscreen should you look for?’)
Chemical sunscreens typically take 20-30 minutes after application to be effective, and work by absorbing the UV rays and neutralising their harmful effect.
4. What is SPF and the PA/star rating system?
SPF – UVB rating
People typically rely only on the SPF rating of their sunscreen to decide how effective it is, without really knowing what it means. SPF stands for sun protection factor and ONLY measures protection from UVB rays – the burning rays, not the UVA ageing rays.
- SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
- SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
- SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays
From above, you can see double the SPF does not mean double the protection. In Europe, sunscreens with higher SPF over 50 can only be labelled as SPF50+ so as not to mislead consumers. After SPF50, the protection increase is minimal.
In addition, SPF is a measure of how long your skin is protected from UVB rays before you start burning. E.g. if you usually burn after 10 minutes then an SPF of 15 would allow you 15x longer protection (10×15) = 150 minutes.
(Note: layering different products with SPF does not increase the overall sun protection level. Applying a sunscreen with SPF30 and a foundation with SPF15 does not give you SPF45. You will simply have the highest SPF level of 30.)
PA/Star – UVA rating
As for UVA protection, Asian sunscreens (particularly from Japan & Korea), utilise a PA rating system with the additional ‘+’ indicating the level of protection – PA+ (minimum protection) to PA++++ (maxiumum). In the UK, the UVA star rating system is used, ranging from 0-5 stars.
I won’t go into the longwinded details of how the rating is measured but it is calculated as a ratio between the level of protection from UVA &UVB which means there shouldn’t be a large difference in the SPF & PA/star rating. If the SPF is high, the PA/stars should also be high and vice versa.
However, a problem with the UVA rating system is that in Europe/US the UVA protection level is not always fully transparent. You will usually have to check the back of the packaging to find the UVA rating and even then, it will only sometimes state UVA protection and not disclose how high the rating is.
5. WHAT TYPE OF SUNSCREEN SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR?
It is very important when selecting sunscreen that you make sure it has broad spectrum protection. This means it protects against different types of both UVA and UVB rays. Not all filters are created equal and can offer broad spectrum. For example, titanium dioxide protects against UVB and short-wave UVA rays but is less effective at blocking long UVA rays compared to zinc oxide. With broad spectrum, you can ensure you have full coverage.
You want your broad spectrum to have an SPF and a PA/star rating as close together to be as effective as possible. It’s no good if you have a SPF50+ but a PA++ rating. The great thing about Korean/Japanese sunscreens is that it’s easy to find SPF50+ with a PA+++ (or PA++++).
To get a good standard of broad spectrum protection, it is recommended to have SPF30 and above, with 4 or 5 stars, or a PA+++/PA++++.
Chemical or physical?
Everyone has their own preference on what sunscreens they like and you should go for one that works for you and your skin type. But let’s look at some of the attributes to help you decide:
- Typically creamier and thicker formulas that are known for giving you that white cast (however, if you do your research you can find more mineral sunscreens on the market these days that are formulated beautifully (lightweight and no white cast).
- Better for sensitive skin prone to redness, acne, breakouts etc. If you have rosacea, mineral sunscreens are definitely preferable as they deflect UV rays & heat which keeps your skin cooler and calmer.
- Mineral filters are more stable & zinc oxide provides complete UV protection.
- Immediate protection after application.
- Usually have more wearable formulations, especially under makeup. No white cast, lightweight, spreadable and absorb quickly.
- Chemical filters can cause negative skin reactions. Sensitive skin types are more prone to this. It also absorbs heat from the UV rays so it can make easily red, irritated skin worse.
- Some chemical filters are unstable and can break down over time rendering them less effective against UVA rays.
- After application, you need to wait 20-30 minutes before getting sun exposure for it to fully absorb and offer complete UV protection. (If you wear makeup, it is best to wait 5-10 minutes after sunscreen, before applying).
- The 3 highlighted filters I mentioned above – OXYBENZONE, OCTINOXATE, HOMOSALATE. These are controversial ingredients as some studies show these disrupt and cause hormonal imbalance after being absorbed into the blood stream which can have more long-term health implications. Oxybenzone use in particular, has been advised against especially for children or pregnant/breastfeeding women. However, these ingredients are FDA approved and considered safe and oxybenzone can actually be found in a lot of different cosmetic products as well as fragrances, hair spray, nail polish etc. (Although oxybenzone is banned in Sweden). If you are considering chemical sunscreens, please do your research so you can make a more informed, educated decision for yourself. Alternatively, there are chemical sunscreens that use other filters besides these 3.
I use both types of sunscreens but personally, I prefer mineral over chemical because the 2 main filters (zinc oxide & titanium dioxide), are very safe and together they provide complete coverage immediately after application. If I’m in a rush getting ready for work in the morning, sometimes I simply don’t have the time or patience to wait that long for a chemical sunscreen, especially when I wear makeup over it too. I do use chemical sunscreens but avoid anything with oxybenzone in the ingredients list. I wear them only occasionally as I feel safer and more comfortable with mineral sunscreens. My skin can be prone to redness and heat rashes so mineral filters that bounce off UV rays suits my skin type better. Not to mention my absolute favourite, holy grail sunscreen is 100% mineral based and has the most satisfying formula that I’ve found among the sunscreens I’ve tried. (More on that below in ‘Sunscreen recommendation’).
6. SUNSCREEN APPLICATION
Sunscreen should always be the last step of your skincare routine which is usually after moisturiser and before your makeup base (primer, concealer, foundation).
Many of us do not apply an adequate amount of sunscreen to our face/neck to get the level of protection stated on the label. To get this we should be applying ¼ of a teaspoon at the very least. If you rely on your base makeup/foundation for your sun protection alone, this is likely to be inadequate because you would not be applying nearly enough to get the full protection.
Once you have that amount, applying it evenly is important because when you spread and rub it onto your skin, coverage can get patchy with certain areas being covered more than others. By gently spreading then patting in your sunscreen, this can help ensure a more even coverage.
If you are using a mineral sunscreen you are protected right away. If you’re using a chemical one, then you should wait at least 20-30 minutes before heading outdoors.
Re-application is also important in maintaining your level of protection during the day. Products that claim X amount of hours of coverage are likely inaccurate because it does not take into account when we sweat, touch our face/skin etc. which reduces your level of protection. This is particularly true of mineral filters as they sit on the surface of your skin and are not absorbed like chemical filters, so their efficacy is more affected by our external environment. The recommended application time is every 2-4 hours, or more frequently if you’re outdoors with sun exposure for a long period of time. Exposure to UV rays is also strongest between 10am-4pm so it is crucial to top up during this time.
(There are probably many of us, me included, that are very bad with re-applying sunscreen because we get lazy or we don’t want to mess up our makeup but I try to balance this out with avoiding the sun where possible. Especially when I’m at work all day, I have limited exposure anyway so I try to apply at least once during the day rather than every 2 hours). The best thing is judging for yourself depending on your level of sun exposure. If you’re indoors, away from reflectors and don’t sweat, then perhaps you don’t need as many frequent top ups. Also, cushion compacts, sun cushions and sun powders are a great way of topping up your sun protection without affecting the rest of your makeup too.
7. SUNSCREEN RECOMMENDATION
Even though I use some chemical sunscreens I won’t recommend any simply because people with different skin types can react to chemical sunscreens in a different way and the filters can be controversial depending on each individual and what their skincare beliefs are.
I will however recommend one sunscreen that I believe will work for the majority of skin types and is a 100% mineral based sunscreen that uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide:
This sunscreen is fantastic. Not overly drying as some mineral sunscreens can tend to be, despite being sebum-free. Very gentle on sensitive skin, lightweight, spreads with ease, absorbs quickly, leaves a satin smooth finish, smells of lemons and is perfect under makeup. It is also very affordable. I’ve tried this over and under so many moisturisers and foundations and this does not pill (where the product begins balling up on your skin like eraser shavings). If you do, it’s likely to be from your moisturiser.
There is honestly nothing negative I can say about this. As much as I like some other sunscreens, they always have at least a downside or something that doesn’t make me want to use it consistently or repurchase. For this Etude House Sunprise Mild Airy Finish, I will continually repurchase and just hope it never ever gets discontinued! It works so well all year round and that makes it my staple holy grail sunscreen.
So there you have it. All the basics you need to know to understand the purpose of sunscreen and just why it’s so important and what you should look out for when choosing one. Hope this has been helpful and informative. If you have any questions, leave a comment below. 🙂