The world of sunscreens is indeed a confusing one! Walk into any pharmacy or supermarket and you will be confronted with terms such as ‘SPF’, ‘PA’, ‘broad-spectrum UV protection’, ‘water-resistant’. Flip over the bottle and you will see a myriad of unpronounceable sunscreen ingredients.
Here are my tips on what to look out for when choosing a sunscreen:
1.Broad spectrum protection is a must
Sunscreens are meant to protect our skin against the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Broad spectrum means that the sunscreen has proven protection against both UVA and UVB – the two most common UV rays reaching the surface of our planet.
2.Choose your Sun Protection Factor (SPF) based on your needs
The SPF rating tells us how effective the sunscreen is at preventing us from burning. For example, let’s say you get a sunburn after 10 minutes without any sunscreen, a sunscreen with a SPF 15 rating will protect you 15 times longer. That means, with that sunscreen, you can stay in the sun for 150 minutes before burning.
Logically, a higher SPF means a longer protection. But do remember that we perspire and sunscreens do come off. Therefore, a higher SPF may not be as protective as we think it is. It’s more important to reapply sunscreen after 2 hours especially when we perspire or get wet.
Many international regulatory bodies do not allow sunscreen manufacturers to claim beyond SPF 50.
In my opinion, for daily use with most of the day spent indoors, SPF 30 is usually sufficient. If you are planning to play outdoor sports or spend the day outside, then go with SPF 50. But always remember to reapply!
3.Water resistant sunscreens – only if you are going into the water
It’s definitely worth getting a water-resistant sunscreen if you are going for a swim or if you are going to perspire a lot. The US Food and Drug Administration specifies that water-resistant sunscreens must remain effective for 40 minutes while swimming.
The payoff for a water-resistant sunscreen is that they tend to be thicker and oilier which may not be suitable for daily use.
4.Physical versus chemical ingredients
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are fine powders that ‘physically’ blocks or reflects the harmful UV rays. Common chemical sunscreen ingredients include the benzophenones (oxybenzone) and the cinnamates (
So, which one should you choose? Commercially, most sunscreen brands combine both types of ingredients. The Skin Pharmacy does have a separate sunscreen using physical ingredient (the Natural Sunscreen range) and chemical ingredients (Silky Smooth Sunscreen range)
- Physical sunscreen ingredients – best for babies and young children, people with sensitive skin and those who psychologically like to see a white layer on their skin to know they are getting some sun protection
- Chemical sunscreen ingredients – for those who have an aversion to sunscreens because of their heavy and oily feel. Chemical sunscreens tend to be more lightweight and easier to apply.
To summarise, choose a sunscreen which feels right for you. Pick your SPF based on your lifestyle and needs. And to make your sunscreen work best for you, apply the appropriate amount and reapply when needed. And don’t forgot your hat and shades too for that extra protection!