Guide to Sunscreen

If you have skin (which you do of course), then you know there are benefits of wearing sunscreen. Perhaps you have experienced staying out in the sun for too long, and you end up having burnt skin and painful sensation. Applying sunscreen before you go out helps protect your skin from the harmful effects of prolonged exposure to the sun.

The most bulletproof way to prevent sun damage to the skin is staying indoors and out of the sun. But if you avoid the sun, it’s an unhealthy way to spend your time. The sun can lift your mood, so going outdoors can affect your happiness and overall disposition. The next best thing to protect the surface of your skin and the layers underneath is by getting some sunscreen.

Sunscreen is one of the most vital steps in a skincare routine. The skin is the largest organ in the body, so it deserves the same care as with any other organ. But sometimes, there are just so many brands and so many terminologies relating to sunscreen that makes choosing one difficult. To make a more informed decision, check out this guide to sunscreen.

Types of Sunscreen

Sunscreens come in many forms and deciding what’s best for you depends on your skin type. The two main types of sunscreens are physical and chemical sunscreens. These terms refer to the kind of active ingredients used.

Physical sunscreens are made of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – the only two inorganic sunscreen ingredients approved by the FDA. It creates a physical barrier between your skin and deflects the sun’s damaging rays. This type of sunscreen sits on top of the skin and reflect the sun’s rays – this is why it’s also called a sunblock. Recent studies suggest that inorganic sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing up to 95 percent of the sun’s rays. Physical sunscreen typically leaves behind a white cast, unless you are using a colored sunscreen or a sunscreen that uses nanotechnology to break down particles.

Chemical sunscreens are products that have active ingredients that aren’t zinc or titanium. Chemical sunscreens absorb into the skin like a lotion, instead of forming a layer on top of the skin. The active ingredients in a chemical sunscreen can cause a chemical reaction to convert the UV light into heat so it won’t harm the skin.

Sunscreen can come in many different forms, such as:

  • Lotion
  • Creams
  • Gels
  • Sticks
  • Sprays
  • Butters
  • Oils
  • Pastes

The direction for using different kinds of sunscreen products vary according to the form. For instance, you can use a lotion-type sunscreen in the face, but you can do that with spray sunscreen. Also, you must always read the label before you use a sunscreen product.

Best Sunscreens Based on Skin Type

The sunscreen that is best for you depends on your skin type and sun exposure levels.

Oily skin

If you have oily skin, chemical sunscreens are your best bet. This type of sunscreen contains multiple active ingredients such as homosalate and avobenzone, which both acts like a sponge to soak up the sun’s rays. Another typical ingredient of chemical sunscreens are antioxidants that provide protection against free radicals in the environment. These products feel light on the skin, so it won’t increase the oiliness of the skin. It’s also less likely to cause congestion.

Dry skin

If you have dry and/or sensitive skin, it’s best for you to consider a physical sunscreen. This kind of sunscreen usually contains zinc oxide, which deflects damaging sun rays from the skin. It often contains natural ingredients and antioxidants to nourish and hydrate the skin, besides providing suitable sun protection.

Combination skin

Combination skin is a condition where you have oily skin in some areas on your face and dry skin in other areas. If you have this type of skin, go for a sunscreen that is a chemical and physical hybrid. The physical components of the sunscreen prevent the sun’s rays from touching the skin, while the chemical ingredients ensure that the formula is light and non-greasy.  

What is SPF?

We see the words “SPF 30,” “SPF 50,” etc. on the bottles of sunscreens. But what does it mean? SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” and it indicates the level of sunburn protection provided by the product. It measures how much solar energy is required to cause sunburn when you are wearing sunscreen compared with unprotected skin. A sunscreen with an SPF 30 means that it can prevent 97 percent of UVB rays from reaching and damaging the skin. An SPF of 50 means it blocks 98 percent, and an SPF 100 blocks 99 percent. In short, the higher the SPF, offers more protection. However, a higher SPF doesn’t mean longer protection – you still need to reapply them just as often.

There is a misconception that the SPF relates to the time of sun exposure. Many people believe that if you normally get sunburned when you’re under the sun in one hour, then an SPF 15 sunscreen allows you to stay in the sun for 15 hours (or 15 times longer) without getting sunburnt. This isn’t true since SPF isn’t directly related to the time of sun exposure but the amount of solar exposure.

Research shows that when you compare an SPF 100 sunscreen with one with SPF 50, it makes a real difference in protecting your skin against sun damage and burns. SPF 30 is the minimum recommended. Also, higher SPF sunscreens tend to be stickier, so some don’t like them as much. But sunscreens with higher SPFs are worth it on a beach day or a day out camp, even if you don’t want to use it daily.

When looking for what sunscreen to buy, the key things to look at are the active ingredients in consideration with the type of skin you have. When considering what SPF to buy, consider how often you will use the sunscreen. If you are looking for a sunscreen you want to wear every day, use an SPF 30 product. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends an SPF of 30 or higher. If you want something to apply on your beach trip or holiday under the sun, try an SPF 50 product or higher.

To check for the SPF level to add on the label, the sunscreen manufacturers do not go to a beach – they go to a lab. They use a testing protocol modeled required by the FDA.

What are UVA and UVB protection, and how does it work?

Catching some sun rays is good for your health. Whether you are exercising outdoors or relaxing on the beach, being out under the sun can help raise serotonin and vitamin D levels, reduce the risk of certain cancers and diabetes, and boosts fertility. But of course, too much sunlight is bad news.

The sun emits different kinds of light rays – two of which are responsible for causing skin damage, such as ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB).

UVB rays are shorter, and it can’t get through glass, but it’s the one that causes sunburn. Meanwhile, UVA rays can penetrate glass. It is more insidious because they affect the skin beneath the surface even if you don’t feel any burning sensation.

Protection against these two types of sun rays and other light rays can be provided by a “broad spectrum” sunscreen. Broad-spectrum sunscreens can protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV radiation. It must have a “UVA/UVB protection” or “multi-spectrum” on the label. Not all sunscreens are broad-spectrum, so make sure to look for these words on the label.

Over the years, tests have shown that sunscreens that contain only zinc oxide or titanium oxide, or both as active ingredients provide the top-notch SPF and UVA protection.

What are the ingredients of sunscreen?

The most common cancer in the US is skin cancer, so sunscreens become more beneficial. The benefits of sunscreens outweigh potential risks. And every sunscreen has active and inactive ingredients. The active ingredients work to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays, while inactive ingredients are simply mixed to formulate the sunscreen.

Here are some of the acceptable active ingredients in products labeled as sunscreen:

  • Aminobenzoic acid
  • Avobenzone
  • Cinoxate
  • Dioxybenzone
  • Homosalate
  • Meradimate
  • Octocrylene
  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Padimate O
  • Ensulizole
  • Sulisobenzone
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Trolamine salicylate
  • Zinc oxide

The protective action of the ingredients takes place on the surface of the skin, but at least some of these ingredients may be absorbed through the skin and enter the body. There have been a lot of negative reports about the health effects of oxybenzone and avobenzone as sunscreen ingredients. Some experts are concerned that these chemicals can cause hormonal disruption, skin irritation, and ironically, skin cancer.

The FDA called for more research regarding these chemicals, and they have found that these ingredients are unsafe. However, some UV filters such as oxybenzone and octinoxate are found to cause hormonal changes in animals. Short-term research in humans did not show any adverse effects.

If you want to be careful, you can opt for mineral sunscreens. The FDA has not yet raised any safety concerns with zinc oxide or titanium oxide.

Tips when Applying Sunscreen

When you apply sunscreen, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

1. Shake it thoroughly

The directions for use may not indicate that you have to shake your sunscreen before use, but it’s a good idea because it helps distribute the active ingredients throughout the sunscreen.

2. Try to avoid too much sun exposure

Research suggests that people who rely on sunscreen alone for sun protection tend to burn more than those who stay in the shade and wear long sleeves. It’s important to avoid too much sun still, especially when it’s the strongest (10 AM to 4 PM).

3. Use enough sunscreen

A good rule of thumb is to use about an ounce of sunscreen to cover your entire bathing-suit-clad body. Think of using a teaspoon for every body part – one teaspoon for the face, head and neck; one for the chest and abdomen; one for your back and nape; one for each arm; and one for each leg. For spray sunscreens, apply as much as can be rubbed in, and then repeat. Remember to reapply every two hours when you’re under the sun the whole day. Even if the sunscreen is SPF 50 or higher, you still need to reapply every two hours.

4. Be aware that no sunscreen is waterproof

All sunscreens are washed off, and you must be aware of this. There’s no such thing as an absolute “waterproof” sunscreen. Some are labeled as water-resistant, and it is required to be tested according to the mandatory SPF test procedure. The label must provide directions on when to apply. Usually, sunscreens need reapplication every two hours to be effective, and immediately after swimming or sweating.

5. Be careful in using a spray sunscreen

The FDA is exploring the risks of inhaling spray sunscreens, so you have to be careful about inhaling its chemicals. Do not spray it directly to your face. Instead, apply it to your hands and use your hands to apply it to your face. Experts say that we should avoid using sprays on children, but should you need to, it is advisable that you spray it first into your hands and then massage it to your child’s skin. Do not use spray sunscreen near an open flame as sprays are flammable.

6. Don’t skimp on sunscreen because you have a darker skin tone

All people have skin, so everyone needs to have it protected. On some level, sunscreen can help prevent tanning in people with white or fair skin, but the main purpose of sunscreen is still protection. Regardless of your skin tone and color, you should apply an adequate amount of sunscreen. Statistics show that survival rates from skin cancer are lower in non-white populations, which may be due to the idea that darker skin tones do not need sunscreen.

7. Test the sunscreen before using it

If you have sensitive skin or a history of developing allergies over some skin products, test the sunscreen first before using it in a large area of your body. Before exposing yourself to the sun, test it the day before on the inside of your wrist.

8. Men must wear sunscreen, too

Surveys show that men wear sunscreen half as much as women. Well if you’re a guy, you are not exempted from skin cancer and sunburn. Wanna show abs at the beach? Slather your whole torso and upper body with sunscreen first, and stay indoors for like 15 minutes before strolling the beach. Sunburn is not sexy.

Hacks to Minimize the Harmful Effects of Sun Exposure


To be allowed to be sold in stores, sunscreens must pass FDA regulations and certain tests to ensure that they are effective and safe to use. But the way you use this product and other protective measures you take can make a difference in how well you can protect yourself against sunburn, early skin aging, skin cancer and other risks caused by over-exposure to the sun.

Here are some ways to minimize the harmful effects of sun exposure while also using your sunblock:

  • Limit your time under the sun, especially between 10 AM to 2 PM, when the sun’s rays are most intense.
  • Cover up! When the sun is shining bright, and you need to go outside, use an umbrella or a wide-brimmed hat. You can also wear comfy long-sleeved shirts, pants, and sunglasses to protect your skin and eyes from intense sunlight.
  • Choose a high-performance sunscreen. Your skin is a precious organ, so don’t skimp on it just to save a few pennies. Choose a high-quality sunscreen that you can afford.
  • Always check your sunscreen ingredients. You may be allergic to some of it, so be careful.
  • Avoid buying sunscreen that also works as a bug repellant. Sunscreen/bug repellant combo is a no go. This may dodge more harmful chemicals into your skin. It’s better to use natural bug repellants separately, such as diluted peppermint oil.
  • Remember always to reapply sunscreen. When you’re outside all day, reapply for every two hours.