Notes on Sun Protection
It feels like summer all-year round in Singapore and if there is one thing you certainly cannot live without (especially these past sweltering days), it’s your good old sunscreen. We kick off this series by debunking a few myths and reinstating the facts of sunscreens:
1. What is a sunscreen?
The sun emits two types of rays: Ultra Violet A and Ultra Violet B. UVA rays are responsible for the premature ageing of skin, while UVB rays are what cause sunburn and skin cancer. Sunscreens are products that have several active ingredients to help prevent and protect these harmful rays from damaging our skin.
2. Who needs sunscreen?
The truth is, anyone over the age of six months should use a sunscreen daily, and this is especially true during the sun soaked months of summer. For those of us parents, start a good practice of applying a suitable baby/children sunscreen from as early as 6 months. This good practice when started this early, will have your kids thanking you for years to come. Even those working indoors are exposed to ultraviolet radiation for brief periods throughout the day, especially if they work near windows, which generally filter out UVB but not UVA rays. And in a time when air travel is just another means to commute, spending time thousands of feet above ground means you are closer to the sun’s harmful rays and should be protected from over exposure (p.s. think twice about that choice of a window seat?). Skin protection is a 365-day job, and not simply for vanity’s sake. According to the American Cancer Society, about 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous skin cancer are diagnosed each year, with another 73,000 melanoma diagnoses (an even more dangerous type) expected this year.
3. What does SPF mean?
SPF (Sun Protection Factor), is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB rays from damaging the skin. It generally takes 20 minutes for unprotected skin to start reddening. So using a SPF 15 sunscreen prevents reddening 15 times more or 5 hours. In percentage terms,
SPF 15 – filters out 92% of UVB rays
SPF 30 – filters out 97%
SPF 50 – filters out 98%
SPF 70 – filters out 99+%
The percentage variance may seem marginal but under the intense blazing, these extra percentages go an extra long way in protecting your skin. While SPF is an important factor to look for in a sunscreen, the key takeaway is not to negate protection against UVA rays (which causes photo-ageing vs the “reddening” effect) which can sometimes cause more harm to skin (skin cancers) over time. To ensure protection against both UVA and UVB, choose a sunscreen which offers broad spectrum protection, regardless of the SPF level.
4. Should I choose a Physical or Chemical sunscreen?
Physical blockers contain natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They are best suited to those that struggle with sensitivity, inflammation and redness as no heat is absorbed into the skin. They sit on top of the skin and deflect sun’s rays acting like a shield. Usually thicker in texture, they sometimes can leave a white cast on skin. But being chemical free, this is typically the choice for babies, kids and adults who have sensitive skin.
Chemical sunscreens are not as thick and usually need to be absorbed into skin at least 20 minutes before heading out. They contain chemical agents to absorb UV light and dissipate as heat energy. The preferred choice for those with blemish prone, dry skin types.
Chemical Sunscreen is a variant of sunscreen that employs chemical agents to protect against the sun. Chemical agents absorb UV light within the skin and dissipates it as heat energy before they can harm the skin. Chemical sunscreen is the preferred choice for most skin types especially blemish probe, congested, dehydrated, dry and mature skin types. Because it absorbs into skin, it works nicely under make up and keeps it fresh and beautiful without compromising on it protection. No matter how “water resistant” a sunblock may claim to be, the golden rule is to still reapply your sunscreen once you are out of the water and have towelled it off.
Aerosol sunscreens may seem super convenient – just a spray and you get protection but note that it can cause uneven application and ingredients are usually not as effective and strong as the creme based ones.
5. How much should I use?
One of the most common mistakes we make is to use a sunscreen of say 50 or 70 but not apply enough of it. Going too lite on your application means you do not get the full effect of the SPF protection. As a gauge, for your face, use no less than a 5 cent coin dollop of sunscreen. Cover all exposed areas adequately and do not neglect your neck and decolletage. No one likes a 2-colour skin tone on your face and neck 🙂 Apply it 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow ingredients to fully bind to skin. Reapply the same amount every 2 hours or when you perspire profusely or under intense sun.
And last but not least, with the right protection in place, by all means, enjoy life and what the sun and sea offers.