Illustration by Ziauddin
Illustration by Ziauddin

Summer has arrived, bringing with it the searing sun and rising temperatures all around the world, including in Pakistan. It is high time for each of us to shield ourselves from the harmful UV rays of the sun to avoid skin diseases and problems.

Sun exposure is inescapable in our daily lives, such as when we go to school, work, the market, the playground or spend a day at the beach. Sunscreen is the most effective and convenient way to protect the surface of our skin, as well as the many layers beneath it, when we are out in the sun.

It’s time to get your sunscreen out, and if you don’t already have one, get one now. And if you do not use a sunscreen, then you should learn more about what it is and why it is important to use it. And even for those who already use it to protect themselves, they should be knowing its different kinds so that they make the right choice, according to their skin and requirements. So let’s learn all there is to this vital skincare product.

Why wear sunscreen?

Like I said earlier, sunscreen protects your skin by preventing the sun’s harmful UV rays from reaching and damaging it. It prevents premature indications of ageing (such as wrinkles and age spots), and also lowers your risk of skin cancer.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, using SPF 30 regularly can reduce a person’s risk of squamous cell carcinoma by roughly 40%, and melanoma by nearly half.

Who can wear it?

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone (excluding new-borns to under six months) apply SPF 30 broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. So no worries, everyone aged six months and above, regardless of skin tone, should apply it to the exposed skin when going outside (even on cloudy days). But yes, children must use it with parents’ approval and supervision.

Buying the right sunscreen

So when it comes to buying the right sunscreen for your skin, it gets really tough. People spend ages to find the right product for them and most of us apply the wrong one. That’s why sunscreen doesn’t work for many people, because not all products are made equal and reading the label on a sunscreen container might feel like deciphering a foreign language. Of course, I went through the same, so I thought why not make it easy for my young friends to decipher all those confusing phrases on the label and ingredient list, and also tell you how they affect your skin and overall health.

Here’s a breakdown of common sunscreen jargon and how vital it is to your health this summer and beyond.

UVA vs UVB rays

The sun emits a variety of light rays, two of which are particularly harmful to your skin: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB).

UVB rays, also known as ‘burning rays’, are shorter and cannot pass through glass. They are harmful to the skin’s top layer, can cause the skin to burn and lead to skin cancer in some cases. And if you have witnessed some dark, dry patches on the skin, it is called sunburn, which is caused by these rays. UVB rays are strongest from 10am to 4pm.

However, UVA rays are more insidious since they harm the skin beneath the surface, even if you don’t notice any changes. UVA rays, often known as ‘ageing rays,’ can cause wrinkles, premature ageing and age spots on the skin.

These rays can travel through window glass and are present as long as there is daylight, which is why doctors recommend wearing sunscreen even if you’re not going outdoors, such as when driving or sitting by a window at home or work. Overexposure to UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB rays, can raise the risk of skin cancer.

SPF

Any guesses what this stands for? The SPF is an acronym for Sun Protection Factor. The SPF value is a measure of how well a sunscreen protects against sunburn, which is largely caused by exposure to the sun’s UVB radiation. The figure is usually explained as the time it takes for an individual’s exposed skin to burn when it is covered in sunscreen versus when it isn’t.

If your skin generally burns after 20 minutes in the sun without sunscreen, an SPF 30 will protect you for 600 minutes, or ten hours. However, once the sunscreen is on your skin, it begins to degrade and can wipe off. As a result, you should reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

UVB light intensity and wavelength dispersion change during the day and by location. But let it be clear that no sunscreen completely blocks the sun’s rays. SPF 30 filters out 97 per cent of UVB rays, SPF 50 filters out 98 per cent, and SPF 100 filters out 99 per cent.

Difference between sunscreen and sunblock

Haven’t thought about it before? Yes, friends, both sunscreen and sunblock differ from each other. You may have seen products labelled ‘sunscreen’ and others labelled ‘sunblock.’ You may have thought both the same. So the main difference between sunscreen and sunblock is how they protect the skin from UV radiation.

Sunblock is so named because it forms a physical shield on the skin barrier that blocks UV rays, whereas sunscreen includes chemicals that absorb UV rays before your skin can. But yes, both are beneficial. You can choose any of the two, depending on your preference and how efficient you find it.


Types of sunscreen

Physical/mineral sunscreen

Mineral sunscreen, also known as physical sunscreen or sunblock, contains the minerals titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to create a protective barrier on the surface of your skin that reflects and scatters UV rays before they reach your skin. This type of sunscreen lies on top of the skin, and leaves behind a white cast. It’s more likely to wipe off, yet, because it’s photostable, it won’t break down or become useless when exposed to sunshine.

Chemical sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens contain chemicals such as avobenzone and oxybenzone, which absorb and neutralise UV rays, they soak into your skin like a lotion rather than creating a barrier on top of it and don’t leave behind a white cast. Therefore they’re commonly used in skincare and makeup.

Physical and chemical sunscreens are effective, so it’s just a matter of preference. If you have to choose, go with physical sunscreen for outdoor activities and chemical sunscreen for everyday usage all year.

Broad-spectrum

Broad-spectrum sunscreen shields the skin from UVA and UVB rays. At the store, look for the words ‘broad-spectrum,’ ‘UVA/UVB protection,’ or ‘multi-spectrum’ on the label of the sunscreen you choose. Because of its extensive protection, the word ‘broad spectrum’ is the one you’ll most often see in imported products, primarily from the US. It’s the type of sunscreen recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology.

Water resistance

Since no sunscreen is waterproof, the FDA forbids sunscreen manufacturers from making claims like ‘waterproof’ or ‘sweat-proof.’ Sunscreens can be water-resistant, which does not mean waterproof. Instead, water resistance means that the sunscreen’s SPF is maintained and that it will be effective in water or sweat for up to 40 minutes.

Extra water-resistant sunscreen lasts twice as long, for 80 minutes. Make sure to reapply after 40 or 80 minutes of water exposure, regardless of the water-resistant option you choose.

Baby sunscreen

Baby sunscreen is specifically designed for babies’ delicate skin, to minimise the risk of allergic reaction and sensitivity, since their skin is thinner than adults. Sunscreen labelled for babies are mineral-based and free of chemicals. It is paraben-free and suitable for sensitive skin.


Sunscreens according to skin type

Dry skin

If you have dry skin, your primary goal should be to buy products that provide moisture.

A moisturising sunscreen cream or lotion with a high SPF will always be beneficial. Physical/Chemical sunscreen with moisturising components like ceramides, glycerine, hyaluronic acid, or aloe vera, will keep your skin moisturised and protected from drying out in the sun.

Sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin, buying the right product is a big struggle because sensitive skin is easily reactive to ingredients and can cause skin rashes and irritation. When searching for sunscreen, there are a few ingredients to avoid, such as alcohol, perfumes, oxybenzone and parabens, as they can cause a reaction.

It’s best to go with a mineral sunscreen or baby sunscreen that contains mild and gentle ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, because it’s less likely to trigger an allergic reaction. Additionally, substances like panthenol, allantoin and aloe vera have soothing effects that may help to reduce irritation.

Normal skin

For those of you who have a normal skin tone, you are lucky because you can use any sunscreen, either physical or chemical, cream or gel-based forms of sunscreen will work for you and protect your skin from the UV rays.

Acne prone and oily skin

If you have acne-prone or oily skin, creamy sunscreens can feel sticky and heavy. Look for water-based sunscreen or gel-based and non-comedogenic formulas with a matte finish. Non-comedogenic means it won’t clog pores.

Mineral sunscreen with ingredients like green tea, tea tree oil, or niacinamide can also help you decrease oil production and prevent acne formation.

Ways to protect

Remember, no sunscreen can completely protect you from the sun, so it’s important to always reapply throughout the day, wear protective clothing (hats, sun-protective swimwear, etc.) and always seek shade. Limit spending time outside in the bright afternoon sun between noon and 4pm.

Aloe vera gel is widely used in skincare products, it has numerous benefits on the skin, hair and health, one of which is the prevention and healing of mild sunburns. This makes it an ideal and affordable choice for relieving the agony of minor sunburns at home.

Sunburned skin loses moisture and applying aloe vera may help retain skin moisture and give a soothing effect on the skin. Gram flour (besan) is a natural cleanser with skin-beneficial qualities. Gram flour is a great way to remove tan — try to wash your face with gram flour at least twice a week.

Happy summers!

Published in Dawn, Young World, June 25th, 2022

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