Any beauty or skincare routine worth its weight has to include sunscreen. There’s little way around it. Many of us, myself included, used to baulk at the notion of needing sun protection outside of the beach, or anywhere that didn’t involve direct, prolonged contact with the sun’s rays. It’s an added step in an already time-pressed morning regimen. It leaves a white cast, it might clog pores, it’ll cause your base makeup to pill or “ball up”, regular reapplication is necessary, and so on.
Some of us try to circumvent these gripes by wearing base products with a sun protection factor (SPF) rating. While that is useful to an extent, makeup tends to fade or melt with sweat, humidity and the like, so an added layer of sunscreen before both primer and foundation always comes in useful.
Those who worry about its lack of cosmetic elegance can always turn to experimenting with sunscreens that contain chemical filters. The sunblocks we lug to beach vacations aren’t the most makeup-friendly, thanks to the pallid white cast it leaves. These are the result of physical filters, namely titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
Chemical filters, on the other hand, are a more refined alternative that go on your skin very much like applying a thin serum, and they adapt better to sunscreen. The main chemical filters to look out for are oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. The only drawback here is that chemical filters need to absorb into your skin for at least 10 to 15 minutes before they’re effective, while physical filters are immediately effective. Choose your player wisely.
On to skin benefits. Sunscreen is the primary line of defence against UV rays that cause skin ageing, especially prematurely, skin cancer, and hyperpigmentation. All the skincare in the world that you use to resuscitate your complexion will only amount to playing catch-up.
We could spew clichés like “prevention is better than cure” to convince you, but hearing it straight from a skin expert would be far more efficacious. So, here’s Dr Adam Geyer, a New York-based dermatologist and a consultant for Kiehl’s, to tell you why sunscreen is imperative to your daily routine.
Lifestyle Asia (LSA): What are some of the negative effects the sun has on our skin?
Adam Geyer (AG): The most common cause of premature skin aging is the sun, especially after the age of 30. In fact, it is estimated that UV rays are responsible for up to 90 percent of our skin’s extrinsic ageing. It is the day-to-day UV radiation that hits the skin on the way to work, through windows in the car, at home, or in the office, and even the UV rays that hit us on cloudy days that cause this. Committing to wearing SPF 365 days per year can help to stave off many of the signs of premature aging.
We also see a number of cumulative effects that worsen over time. The skin often discolours and becomes more uneven in tone, the texture can become rougher and coarser, and we see an increase in the formation of both superficial and deep lines. Additionally, exposure to UV rays can contribute significantly to the formation of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
LSA: What are some best practices when shopping for sunscreen?
AG: Find a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, one that provides broad spectrum UVA and UVB coverage, and has a texture that is well suited to your skin. One of my personal favourites is the Kiehl’s Ultra Light Daily UV Defence for its lightweight texture.
LSA: Are higher SPF ratings better, or should we vary our sunscreen choices based on the climate?
AG: The SPF of a product indicates its ability deflect ultraviolet radiation and protect the skin from UVB rays. This provides an assessment of both the length of time that one can stay in the sun without burning, as well as an indication of the percentage of UV rays reaching the skin through the sunscreen. In terms of duration, a product with an SPF of 15 would allow an individual to stay in the sun 15 times longer than they normally would without burning. In terms of percentage of rays reaching the skin’s surface, a product with an SPF of 15 would deflect approximately 93 percent of UVB rays (assuming a sufficient amount of the product is applied) whereas a product with an SPF of 50 would deflect 98 percent of UVB rays.
LSA: How about PA rankings. Do they matter?
AG: The PA rankings provide information on a product’s ability to protect the skin from harmful UVA rays. These longer wavelength UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB rays and can damage vital structures in our epidermis and dermis, accelerate photoageing, and contribute to skin cancer risk. The greater the PA rating, as indicated by ‘+’ symbols, the more protection from UVA.
LSA: Many people are afraid of sunscreen clogging their pores. How does one counteract this?
AG: If you’re concerned about pore clogging, make sure to take time to try out different sunscreens to find the texture that is right for you – because if you don’t like the feel of the product, you won’t be inclined to put it on every day — which will limit your overall benefits. Also, to minimise clogging, I advise performing a quick face wash when you come home from work or at the end of daylight hours to remove your sunscreen. Remember to use separate night-time products that do not contain SPF.