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You can’t wait to get outside in the big wide world to tackle a new adventure, but you’ve got to be smart. If you love the great outdoors then you already know you need to do to prepare for the day. Yes, we’re talking about sunscreen. And not just any old sunscreen. You want the best sunscreen that will protect you from the sun’s rays so you don’t even have to worry about it.
Look: Dermatologists have been recommending sunscreens for decades now. And as research continues to unearth the various ways in which the sun’s rays can harm your skin, newer varieties of sunscreen are hitting the market, with each variant being stronger and more potent than the last.
The options are endless, with each promising to be the most effective. With such a wide variety of choices at hand, how do you determine which sunscreen is the best for your skin?
What Is Sunscreen?
To put it simply, sunscreen (also known as sunblock, sun cream, or suntan lotion) is a product formed by combining several ingredients, developed with the intention of preventing the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays from penetrating the skin.
It’s a product meant for topical application, and it can come in the form of a gel, a lotion, or even a spray. A sunscreen typically works by absorbing or reflecting some harmful rays of the sun, thus protecting your skin from getting sunburned.
What are the ingredients in sunscreen?
Sunscreen typically contains one or more of the following active ingredients.
- One or more organic chemical compounds that absorb ultraviolet light from the sun
- Inorganic particulate matter (such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or a combination of both) that reflect, scatter, and absorb ultraviolet light
- The organic particulate matter that mostly absorbs ultraviolet light (much like organic chemical compounds)
Organic particulates also contain multiple chromophores that reflect and scatter a small fraction of light like inorganic particulates. For example, bisoctrizole is an organic particulate that absorbs 90 percent of sunlight and reflects the remaining 10 percent.
The general chemical structure of the ingredients in it allows them to absorb high-energy UV rays and convert them into low-energy rays before releasing them. This mechanism allows these organic chemical compounds to prevent the harmful UV rays from reaching the skin without undergoing any photodegradation themselves.
Nevertheless, some sunblocks also include chemical stabilizers to slow down the breakdown of the ingredients, thus helping them to stay effective for longer periods. Many sunblocks manufactured these days also include moisturizers as inactive ingredients.
What Is SPF?
SPF or sun protection factor, is one of the primary methods used in grading the potency of sunscreen. The SPF rating system was introduced in 1974, and it is essentially a measure of the fraction of the ultraviolet B rays from the sun that reach the skin.
For instance, in the case of an SPF 20, one-twentieth of the sun-burning UVB rays reach the skin, given that you’ve applied the mix evenly at a thick dosage of 2 milligrams per square centimeter of skin. A common misconception that people have about the SPF grading system is that a higher SPF rating means the effects of the screen lasts longer on the skin.
That isn’t true. The SPF only indicates the number of harmful rays reaching the skin, and it has nothing to do with the duration the sunscreen lasts for. Even the most potent sunblocks need to be reapplied every two hours or so.
SPF was introduced to provide protection from ultraviolet B rays since it was once believed that only UVB rays were harmful. However, progress in research revealed that UVA rays were also capable of penetrating the skin deeply and causing wrinkles and damage to the DNA.
Plus, it can increase the risk of malignant melanomas. Consequently, newer methods of grading and different variants of a protective sunblock were developed to offer protection from UVA rays as well.
Types of Sunscreen
Depending on the level of protection, the kind of safeguard offered, and the skin type they’re best for, sunscreen comes in various forms. Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of sun protection products available on the market.
Also known as a physical sunscreen, sunblock is basically a mineral screen that acts as a physical barrier between your skin and the sun’s harmful rays.
Minerals in sunblock, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, form a layer over the skin and act as UV filters by reflecting the sun’s UV rays before they penetrate deep into the skin. They are only effective as long as they’re not rubbed off the skin by sweat or water.
Sun protection creams
Sunscreen also comes in the form of creams, which can be applied topically. They generally leave a white cast over the skin, and they don’t hold up well when exposed to sweat and water, making them less suited for warmer weather.
In winter, however, these creams can be a great option for people who want a bit of protection from the weak sun overhead. Creams typically have a matte appearance once applied onto the skin.
Sun protection gels
Gels are best used in summers because they feature light formulas that aren’t too heavy on the skin. Generally transparent or translucent, sun protection gels can also be applied before you put on your makeup.
They stay on even when exposed to sweat or a bit of water and don’t come off easily. That makes them great for warmer weather. Gels are suitable for all skin types.
Sun protection powder
Powders that protect the skin from ultraviolet rays come in handy for people who wear makeup. Unlike gels or creams, which leave a slightly oily or cakey appearance when reapplied over makeup, powders can be reapplied at regular intervals without ruining your look.
They’re also compatible with most skin types because the ingredients used are gentle on the skin. Sun protection powders are also perfect for humid places and hot weather.
Sun protection lotions generally include a moisturizing formula that makes them suitable for application all over the body. They’re light on the skin, and they keep your skin cells hydrated for long periods, making them suitable for dry skin.
Sunblock lotions are best applied like body lotions, just after your bath, and a few minutes before you head out into the sun. Depending on the variant, they may or may not be resistant to water.
Sun protection sprays aren’t as effective as regular sunblocks. However, if you’re heading out for a quick errand or if you aren’t going to be spending too much time in the sun, but still want to protect yourself, sun protection sprays may be a great option.
They’re light and non-greasy, and can easily be washed away from your skin. Nevertheless, they’re resistant to sweat and water.
Tinted sunscreens are just like regular sunblock, except that they’re tinted in various colors. These products are useful for people who want to get the best of makeup and sunblock in one single product.
Tinted sunblock is best used on the face, although tinted lip balms that offer protection from ultraviolet rays are also sold as separate products.
In order to overcome the ineffectiveness of regular sunblock products preventing UVA rays from seeping into the skin, broad-spectrum sunscreens were developed.
These products contain both physical and chemical sun-protection ingredients that repel both kinds of ultraviolet rays. The most common ingredients in broad-spectrum sunblocks are zinc dioxide, titanium dioxide, oxybenzone, dioxybenzone, n-octylmethyl, and salicylates.
There are several ways in which sunblock can benefit your skin in particular and your body in general. Here’s a look at some of the many benefits of wearing it regularly.
Protection from UV rays
With the ozone layer depleting steadily, ultraviolet rays from the sun are now penetrating the atmosphere more than ever before.
One of the primary reasons you should use sunblock is to keep these damaging UV rays from harming your skin. Specifically developed to keep off UVA and UVB rays, new-age sunblocks are your best bet against these risky radiations.
Prevention of premature aging
Exposure to the sun can not only damage your skin but can also result in the formation of wrinkles and fine lines. Excessive sun damage can cause your skin to age prematurely, making you look older than your age.
Regular usage of sunscreen has been proven to reduce your chances of developing these signs by around 25 percent.
Reduced risk of skin cancer
Another side effect of exposing your skin to ultraviolet radiation is the very real possibility of damage to your skin cells.
UV rays can impair your DNA, and increase the risk of various kinds of skin cancer, including malignant melanoma, which is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. Wearing sunblock without fail can reduce that risk.
Reduction in sunburn and tanning
Sunblock usage can also keep your skin from getting sunburned because most sunscreens reflect a substantial portion of the sun’s rays. That’s especially beneficial for people with sensitive skin.
Sunscreen also prevents you from getting tanned in places that are frequently exposed to the sun, like your forehead and the back of your palms.
Slather on the Protection
As you’ve seen, there are several kinds of sunscreen to choose from. But now you know what you’re looking for and what you need for every part of your life.
So, next time you step outside for that hike on the trail, take a few extra minutes and protect your skin. Then, throw it in your backpack and hit the road!
And don’t forget to re-apply because sunscreen doesn’t last forever.
Which type of sunscreen do you normally use? What’s your favorite brand? Tell us about your fav and your upcoming adventure in the comments!