Choosing the Best Sun Protection for your Skin
The most direct answer to keeping skin fair is probably to stay out of the sun. This however, would prove nearly impossible for people like us living in a tropical climate, so the next best option is to apply suitable sun protection.
But what exactly is suitable sun protection? What do all the terms like SPF, UVA, UVB, PA actually mean? And is exposing our skin to the sun really so bad?
Fret not, read our guide to become an expert in a jiffy!
Why Sun Exposure can harm our skin
Sunlight contains solar rays, which can penetrate skin and damage it. Besides sunburn, these rays are the main cause of wrinkling, weathering (think of how the leathery skin of folks living on highlands and mountains, areas closer to the sun) and most signs of photo-aging. I’m sure you’ve seen the famous photo of Bill McElligott by now. He’s the truck driver with severe sun damage on one side of his face (the side facing the window of his truck). Of course, problems like pigmentation or melanoma that appear as we get older can also be caused by unprotected sun exposure. So the moral of the story? Sun protection! Apply it and start early if you want to stay younger longer!
UVA stands for Ultra Violet-A, these are long wave solar waves that are less likely to cause skin darkening, but which are more dangerous as they are the main cause of photo-aging symptoms like wrinkling and leathering. And because they work so silently, and penetrate so deeply, they’re even more dangerous than the pigmentation causing UVB. At least UVB gives us a hint when it’s harming us! Studies also show that UVA not only increases UVB’s cancer-causing effects, but may even directly cause some skin cancers.
UVB stands for Ultra Violet-B. These short wave solar rays are the main cause of sunburn, skin cancer and pigmentation. So if you’re looking to keep your clear, even complexion – remember to keep those UVB rays at bay!
And here’s the Chez Moi formula to differentiate between UVA and UVB:
UVA – Ages skin, UVB –Burns skin.
Sun Protection Standards
Now that you’ve gotten your UV basics down pat, we’ll move on to the types of Sun Protection Standards and what they mean – an important thing to note when we’re choosing our sun protection!
SPF: SPF stands for sun protection factor.
This measures the amount of time a product protects your skin from reddening due to exposure to UVB rays. For example, if it takes 20 minutes before your skin starts to redden when exposed to the sun without any protection, an SPF of 15 will prevent your skin from burning for 15 times longer. (20×15=300 mins) This means you can be in the sun for 5 hours with an SPF 15 product, before your skin starts getting damaged.
If you’ve taken note of the above, you’ll realise that contrary to popular belief, a higher SPF doesn’t mean stronger protection, just a longer period of protection. So if you work in an office all day and are only exposed to the sun for only 30 minutes each way when commuting to and fro, you probably won’t need a product with SPF 45. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you use products with at least SPF 15, a minimum that should work for most people, unless you work in a mainly outdoor environment.
Since SPF measures the reddening of skin, this universal standard is mostly useful for gauging the protection against UVB rays (The rays that burn skin! Remember?). Currently there is no worldwide standard for UVA protection, so you’ll need to check the ingredients in your product to ensure that there are also UVA resistant products in there to safeguard your skin against the effects of photo-aging, caused by those UVA rays!
PA: PA is a Japanese sun protection standard based on the PPD (Persistent Pigment Darkening) reaction readings.
You can look to the PA system for a better gauge on UVA protection. PPD measures the damage to our pigment cells after every 2 – 4 hours of sun exposure. This reading helps to determine the PA (Protection level of UVA) of a product.
There are currently 3 levels of PA:
- PA+ : Some UVA protection with a PPD of 2-4 (meaning our pigment cells will start getting damaged after 2-4 hours of sun exposure)
- PA++: Moderate UVA protection with a PPD of 4-8. (Skin is protected for 4-8 hours)
- PA+++: Good UVA protection with a PPD of >8. (More than 8 hours of sun protection)
So again, you can use this standard to match your sun protection product to your needs. Since UVA works on an invisible level compared to UVB, they’re more dangerous, so a higher PA factor might be a safer bet.
SUNBLOCK VS SUNSCREEN
Now that we’ve explained the different standards to measure sun protection – mainly SPF and the Japanese PA system, we’ll touch on the difference between Sunblock and Sun Screen. And the ingredients that can guarantee safe coverage in sun protection products.
The most common types of sunblock are the physical block and the chemical block.
Chemical blocks usually have the words “sun screen”, or “sun filter” in their names, while physical blocks often have the word “sun block” in their name. The key difference between these 2 types of sun protection are the way they work to prevent sun damage.
Chemical blocks work by absorbing UV rays and then changing these rays to thermal energy via chemical conversion. Many of these sunscreens work well against UVB, but are less effective against UVA, especially against longer UVA wavelengths. However, recent innovations like the chemical avobenzone works against all UVA wavelengths, so do look out for that in your sunscreen to ensure maximum protection. The one downside of chemical blocks (especially those with a high SPF rating) is that they might irritate sensitive skin – due to the chemical conversion process.
Physical blocks work by creating a physical barrier on skin to deflect UV rays when they reach the skin. Because the UV rays are scattered when they come into contact with physical block ingredients, they do not damage skin. Physical blocks often contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, good ingredients that provide broad spectrum protection against UVB and all UVA wavelengths. Although poor quality sun blocks can feel thick and blend poorly on skin, new formulations have emerged containing finely blended ingredients that feel light and comfortable when applied, and also look less conspicuous on skin.
If you are looking for a good sunblock, why not consider Faith Cosmetic’s EndogenouS Sunprotector? This made-in-Japan product (PA+++, SPF 40) is an additive-free physical sunblock that contains both Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. With 11 active ingredients like CoEnzyme Q10 (anti-oxidant), Rice Bran (soothing properties for sensitive skin) and Sodium Hyaluronate (moisturising), this product not only works to protect against sun-damage, but is also good for your skin! Best of all is how silky smooth and light it feels on skin – due to the double silicon coating – making it a wonderful make-up base. Its reflective qualities also ensures that skin looks more flawless and even! Best of all, a small bottle (50ml) can last for a long long time, making it a great investment in your anti-sun damage toolkit!
Another option we love, and our go-to for on-the-go sunblock reapplication, is the Colorescience Sunforgettable Mineral Sunscreen Brush SPF50. Not only is this physical sunblock light, fuss-free and waterproof, the mineral powder application means that we can brush it over make-up, over sweaty, post-exercise skin, outside, indoors, anywhere and anytime. It’s translucent finish goes with all skin types, and even men love it for its non-sticky, easy application. This is our travel holy grail!