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Your ultimate guide to sunscreens and how to choose the best one

Following an elaborate skincare routine, every day might not be possible for each one of us. However, you can still take care of your skin by including some essential skin care products in your daily routine. One such crucial item is a sunscreen that suits your skin type, so here’s how to choose the best one for you.

Besides moisturising and toning, you should also pay heed to protect your skin from the harmful rays of the sun regularly. If you’re wondering why this is so important, well, medical research has revealed that constant exposure to UV rays can develop squamous cell carcinoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. Moreover, it is common knowledge that sun tanning or burns lead to dark spots on your skin and premature wrinkles. To prevent these from showing on your skin, one must always wear a sun protection cream or lotion, especially before stepping out.

What is SPF?

Short for Sun Protection Factor, SPF is a measurement of the amount of time a sunscreen protects the skin from harmful UV rays. This means that with an increase in the SPF value, sun protection also increases. The SPF number denotes how long it is going to take for the sun to start affecting your skin while wearing sunscreen. For instance, SPF 30 provides 30 times more protection to your skin when compared to normal skin without an SPF. Similarly, SPF 50 lends 50 times longer sun protection.

When deciding what SPF number to opt for, always look for a sunscreen with SPF 30 or more.


Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) are the most skin-damaging sun rays which make wearing sunscreen an absolute essential. UVA rays have longer wavelengths and are associated with skin damage, ageing and tanning. UVB rays, whereas, have shorter wavelengths and are the cause of skin burns and even lead to skin cancer. This makes it important for you to always choose a broad-spectrum SPF that guards your skin against both types of rays.

Types of sunscreens: Mineral vs chemical

There are two different types of sunscreens—mineral (also called physical) and chemical. Mineral sunscreen is formulated with either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide or both. This type of sunscreen forms a physical barrier on the skin to block all harmful rays.

A chemical sunscreen, on the other hand, is formulated with ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, octisalate and homosalate. It absorbs the sun rays into the skin thereby converting it into heat and releasing it back through the skin.

How to choose a good sunscreen for your skin?

When you’re purchasing sunscreen, you must pick one that is effective and compatible with your skin type. Here is a checklist of the things you should consider while choosing the best one.

  • SPF: Sun Protection Factor or SPF is a measure of how much UVA/UVB sun rays the solution can filter out. Dermatologists recommend an SPF of at least 30 or below, as it provides 97 percent protection against the harsh rays of the sun.
  • Formulation: These creams are available in the form of lotions, creams and even sprays. While choosing your sunscreen, look for a texture that’ll blend into your skin easily. For instance, while a matte finish one is suitable for oily skin, a creamy solution helps nourish dry skin.
  • Ingredients: Minerals like zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and avobenzone help deflect sun rays, offering a strong defence to your skin. These ingredients are considered as ‘broad spectrum’, meaning that they block both UVA and UVB rays to keep your skin safe. On the contrary, vitamin A, commonly referred to as retinyl palmitate, is something you must avoid as it can be responsible for skin tumours.

How to apply sunscreen

Here are a few things to consider when applying sunscreen.

  • Use enough product for ample protection. For instance, a pea or coin-sized amount isn’t enough and you should use two fingers’ worth of product to cover your entire face and neck properly.
  • Apply it 15 to 20 minutes before stepping out, especially when using a chemical sunscreen.
  • Always apply sunscreen on clean and well-moisturised skin and cover all exposed areas including the neck, ears, fingers and toes.
  • Always reapply it every two to three hours if you’re outside in the sun. When reapplying on top of makeup, you can use a stick or powder sunscreen so that the makeup doesn’t move.

The right time to apply sunscreen

While mineral sunscreens immediately form a physical barrier on the skin to block sun rays, a chemical sunscreen needs time to get absorbed into the skin for it to work. Hence, it is recommended to apply sunscreen around 20 minutes before heading out. You should also immediately apply it after a swim or a strenuous workout session.

The guide to choosing the best sunscreen for you

(Main Image Courtesy: RF Studio/Pexels; Featured Image Courtesy: Anna Tarazevich/Pexels)

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Question: Is SPF 30 or SPF 50 better for the skin?

Answer: SPF 30 is known to block 97 percent UVB rays while SPF 50 blocks 98 percent UVB. Although that’s a difference of just one percent, SPF 30 allows you to stay in the sun around 30 times longer before your skin starts burning. SPF 50 on the other hand, takes 50 times longer for the skin to start burning. It is always recommended to use a broad spectrum sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or above.

Question: Is SPF 30 enough for brown skin?

Answer: Regardless of the skin type and colour, a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or above is always best suited.

Question: Is SPF 50 too much for the face?

Answer: No. SPF 50 blocks about 98 percent of UVB rays which makes it an ideal choice both for face and body.

Question: For how many hours does SPF 50 last?

Answer: In general, you should reapply sunscreen every two to three hours irrespective of the SPF number especially when outside or swimming.

Question: How long does SPF 50 PA+++ last?

Answer: The PA index on sunscreen is depicted by the plus sign. An SPF 50 PA+++ sunscreen usually lasts for around 500 minutes however, reapplication every two to three hours is always advised.

Question: Do I need to wear sunscreen indoors?

Answer: The short answer is yes. While you might not need to reapply it every three hours like you should when out in the sun, you should slather on an SPF every morning. The harmful UV rays can still pass through your home and car windows and affect your skin. Additionally, the blue light from laptop and mobile screens also lead to premature skin ageing and free radical activity.

Your ultimate guide to sunscreens and how to choose the best one

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