7 TRUTHS you need to know before buying sunscreen

7 TRUTHS you need to know before buying sunscreen

As y’all know, sunscreen is the most fashionable item today. It is the single most sought after product either by itself or in combinations with make-ups or skincare.

We have come a very long way. Zinc oxide has been around for the last thousands of years for its skin benefit without it being labelled as a sunscreen. Thankfully, it became commercialised in 1938 by a French chemist under the brand L’oreal and since then we have never looked back. When I see patients in my clinic, most of them relayed that they have only known of sunscreen only for the last 10 years. Even then, they were expensive, hard to put on due to its unfriendly consistency and nobody really put it on their faces because it leaves thick white residue. I mean, who could really blame them?

Thankfully, with Pinterest and Google search within the tip of our fingers, information regarding sunscreen is readily available. However, despite all the efforts to promote sunscreen and awareness of skin cancer, I have come across many people who have very little knowledge about sunscreen -how to use it, how much is enough, what does SPF really means, etc.

Here, I am going to break it down to you, in plain English -regarding the truths and practicality you need to know before splurging for your next sunscreen.

#1. Chemical sunscreen vs Physical sunblock

A lot of people know about sunscreen but has very little idea about the presence of two different types of sunscreen/sunblock: chemical and physical.

Chemical sunscreen has long names for its active ingredients such as Avobenzone Cinoxate, Aminobenzoic acid, Homosalate, Dioxybenzone, Octyl salicylate and the list goes on. More and more of the sunscreen that we see in the market today, composed of chemical sunscreen. The reason being, it is easier to put on without leaving any white cast, easily blended underneath our make-ups thanks to its light weight consistency and it may comes in different forms such as creams or sprays. It works by absorbing the UV rays from the sun and convert them into a less harmful radiation. Hence, it needs to be properly absorbed by your skin first (20-30minutes) before it can actually do what it meant to do. However, due to the chemical nanoparticles that are needed for the formulations to work, it could cause irritation to some more than others and sometimes, even make you easily break out.

Meanwhile, physical sunscreen only comprises of either two of these ingredients: Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide. As the name suggested, they are an actual physical sunblock that once applied onto the skin, would deflects all the sun rays. As their particles are normally larger, they will not be absorb onto the skin and therefore, less irritation found. However, it can only be presented in cream formula which is usually rather thick, white and creamy which is not ideal for application underneath the make-up.

#2. SPF, PA+ and star ratings -what does it mean?

SPF is an abbreviation for sun protection factor. It mainly describes UVB rays which makes us tan, causes sunspots, freckles and visible aging. SPF 50 means 1/50th of the burning radiation will reach your skin upon exposure. So for SPF 15, 1/15th of the radiation will penetrate into the skin. If we take this into consideration alone, the higher the SPF, the better. However, the theory is somewhat different in reality of which I will discuss in a separate bullet point below.

PA or star ratings on the other hand talks about UVA rays. PA stands for Protection Grade of UVA and this system is commonly used in Asian countries. Star ratings also refers to UVA but more commonly found in European products with 5 stars reflecting the highest of protection. Bare in mind, UVA rays are also as harmful as UVB. However, it will NOT make you tan or causes sunspots. Hence, you could still have photo-damage and premature wrinkles without tanning or turning dark at all.

So, the next time you are on the hunt for your next sunscreen, ensure that you are aware of what level of protection you require. Ideally, SPF 50 with 5 stars rating or PA +++ is the best. If a product failed to mention its UVA protection, its most likely has mediocre cover so make sure to Google it first before splurging your money!

#3. SPF 15 vs SPF 50

As we have discussed above, in theory, SPF 15 allows 1/15th of the UV rays to penetrate your skin. If you follow this context alone, SPF 100 is clearly better than SPF 50 and SPF 50 is better than SPF 15. The reality is slightly different however. So, let’s discuss this in terms of its practicality.

SPF 15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, SPF 50 blocks 98% and SPF 100 99%. So according to this figure, you could safely use SPF 15 everyday which has reasonable protection of 93%. But then, why do we need SPF 100?

In reality, I would use at least SPF 30 for my face. That is because my face is quite sensitive and with the higher SPF, there will be more added preservatives in order to make it wearable. I could use SPF 50 with an added 1% protection (compared to SPF 30) but you need to justify that with the irritation that may (or may not) comes with it, especially with daily use. Although the difference might be trivial but the 1% extra coverage might be significant over a course of time. Hence, I would suggest to use SPF at least 50 for those with higher risk of skin cancer (skin type I/II, light hair and eye color). For Asian skin like myself, SPF 30 is sufficient provided you use it daily.

#4. ‘Waterproof’ and ‘long wear’ sunscreen

Okay, just to put it out there once and for all -there is no such thing as ‘waterproof’ or ‘long wear’ sunscreen. Please don’t fall for this marketing gimmicks.

The bottom line is, whatever sunscreen you put on, be it chemical or physical -you need to re-apply your sunscreen every 2-3 hours. No short cuts. Especially if you are going for your water activities where there are plenty of sun reflections. I would advise to wear sunsuits if you are involved in longer water activities like snorkelling or diving but that should be in complimentary to your sunscreen -not a substitute.

Ever thought why you are still getting sun spots despite the sunscreen?? Well, maybe you should think how frequent you have been re-applying your sunscreen. For example, as for me because I work inside a building, I will be exposed to sun when I’m making my way from home to my work place. So at least 30 minutes before that sun exposure, I would have applied my sunscreen. And even though you will be driving to your work place, there is still some sun exposure. For example, truck drivers are known to have higher risk of skin cancer (accumulative risk overtime). So don’t skip your sunscreen!

#5. How much is too much?

Remember, physical sunblock generally has a thick consistency that even if you just apply enough to your face, you would feel as if you have been applying a bit too much. It even leaves a white residue but that does not indicate that you have enough protection.

As a rule of thumb, you need to use at least 2mg of sunscreen for a centimetre square of your skin surface. That will translate as roughly 2 table spoons for your body and a nickel-sized dollop for your face.

However, if you are using spray aerosol sunscreen for the ease of re-application, please make sure that you apply a generous double-coating. This is because the fine aerosol mist are easily blown away that you might easily missed some areas.

#6. Best sunscreen for the FACE

I would like to dedicate the first column to those women out there who wears make-up to work. It is always very challenging to find sunscreen that would work with you and won’t take any more time than it should especially during those mornings when you need to be ready in 15 minutes. Today, there are a lot of make-ups such as foundations which has SPF in them. These are good, but I would advocate to use more than just your SPF-contained foundations.

For example, you could use a make-up primer which has SPF 30 and top if off with your BB cream/cushion. The one that I would recommend  is this Coola Mineral Make-up Primer. It is light-weight and helps to make your make-up lasts much longer in addition to its sun protection properties. If you have more to splurge, Bobbi Brown has a good primer with SPF 50. It is quite runny and easy to blend out. I know it is rather dear but one tube of 75mls lasts me more than 6 months. Another thing that I love to do during summer (and when my skin is behaving) is to use this La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF 50 tinted sunscreen. My skin would have a much healthier complexion while being protected at the same time. It just looks so natural like my own skin but better. It is best when applied using a beauty blender. I just compliment it with some blusher and I am ready to go!

As an alternative, you could use daily day moisturiser which has a SPF in it. For oily acne-prone skin (with bumpy textures), I would recommend Effaclar Duo La Roche Posay. It has SPF 30 and helps to soothe your skin irritation. If you have dull skin, you could use Alpha H protection Plus Daily Moisturiser SPF50 which has a brightening anti-oxidant. You could definitely see results at least after 6 weeks of use. Another product which has a brightening effects and helps to clear hyperpigmentation is this Murad Essential-C Day Moisturiser SPF50. It has Vitamin C which aids to protecting skin against free radical damage as well as SPF for protection. Win!

Re-application! I have a can of sunscreen spray mist with me at all times. I like spray mist with fine aerosols and trust me, its better to invest in getting a fine aerosol sun mists than trying to work with sun ‘mist’ that splatter big droplets that you can’t even spread it evenly on top of your face. I personally use La Roche Posay Anthelios Spray Mist (product on far right). It has a sunscreen smell to it so I certainly could agree it is not for everyone. The more affordable option though is this Garnier Ambre Solare Protection Mist SPF50. But I prefer sunscreen that protects you and nourish you at the same time. So have a look at this affordable Vitamin C infused sunscreen by Supergoop! I heard a lot of good reviews and am stocked to try it for myself!

#7. Best sunscreen for the BODY

There are a lot of good sunscreen out there for your body. I generally prefer physical sunblock as I could generously apply them as I don’t mind having slightly white tinted cast on my body. Alternatively, I would choose spray-on chemical sunscreen with SPF 50 and 5 star ratings or PA +++ which is convenient for my re-application.

In the usual scenario, I would normally buy bottles of sunscreen at the end of summer or in autumn. I find that they are selling them in full price with one brand dominating the shelves when it’s hitting summer. However, once summer has ended, there are plenty of deals (3for2) for a fraction of the price. As always, make sure to check the expiry dates so that you could use it for the next summer in order to stretch your money.

The one which is readily available with SPF 50 and 5 star ratings would be La Roche Posay Anthelios XL body spray. If you are longing for that sun-kissed look without too much effort but wants to be protected at the same time, you could use Clarins sun care oil spray SPF 30. The later has such a glamorous finish that you might not ever want to use any other sunscreen thereafter. It is worth every single penny. For a family, you could use the La Roche Posay Dermo-Kids. They are applicable for both adults and children alike. Get a big bottle and make sure your family is protected for the next summer! Although technically, you should be using it everyday -even on cloudy days!


That’s all for this week loves! I will try to update my blog next Friday again but it will be challenging as I will be in my flight, heading home for my 2 weeks break. Yippie!! I will surely cover myself with sunscreen from head to toe. And oh, make sure you thoroughly clean your face at the end of the day as sunscreen can really dries up your skin. Should you want to hear more about what we do in our dermatology clinics, please ask in the comment sections below!

For more glowing skin, read this for more tips about 5 things you should stop doing!

XX Sophie Voon

7 truths sunscreen(PIN)

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