Let's Talk - Sun Protection

Mineral vs Chemical

Why we use them?

The right amount of sunscreen a day can keep wrinkles away. And protect us against skin cancer! But vain as we are, it’s usually the prospect of skin ageing that makes us apply sunscreen.

Like a fine wine, we get better with age. Sadly, that’s not the case for your skin and lips. As we age, our skin and lips start to lose collagen and elastin as well as hyaluronic acid. As those reduce, there is appearance of deflation or loss of volume. Suddenly wondering how to avoid the shrunken look. One of the most effective measures to slow the skin’s ageing process is daily sunscreen use to prevent damage induced by sun.

How to buy the perfect sunscreen?­

When you buy your sunscreen, I want you to take the following advice into account:

  • The first rule is not very scientific, but extremely important: you need to find one that you like. You might have the most exclusive, best rated sunscreen, but if you do not like the texture and smell, you will not apply it (or not enough). Especially for the face, you might want to choose a light and hydrating, easy to apply sunscreen that sits well on your type of skin.

  • To get reliable sun protection, you need to look for a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB (‘broad spectrum’) and SPF of at least 30 is recommended (more on SPF below).

  • If you are going to the beach or pool, you need to look for a ‘water resistant’ or ‘very water resistant’

  • If you have sensitive skin and/or are concerned about the environment, choose a mineral sunscreen (=physical sunscreen) over a chemical sunscreen (more on mineral and chemical sunscreens below).

  • Remember that sunscreens do expire. Look at the expiry date when you buy one and remember that once opened, use within one year (or shorter if stated on the packaging). Besides, you should wear sunscreen all year round.

SPF, what is it and which SPF to choose?

SPF or ‘sun protection factor’ is a measure of how long a sunscreen will protect you from UV-B rays. Yes, UV-B only, not UV-A, hence you have to make sure the packaging mentions ‘protection against the UV-B AND UV-A’ or ‘broad spectrum’ or ‘PA rating ***’ (PA rating reflects the level of protection against UV-A). UV-B rays cause sunburn and contribute to the development of cancer whilst the UV-A rays play a bigger role in skin ageing. Just think of them as the ‘burning rays’ (UV-B) and the ‘ageing rays’ (UV-A).

SPF15? SPF30? Or SPF50? What’s the difference?

As I said before, SPF is only talking about protection against the ‘burning’ UV-B rays. The protection is higher as the number goes up, though marginally. SPF15 blocks about 93% of all UV-B rays. SPF30 blocks about 97% of all UV-B rays. SPF50 blocks about 98% of all UV-B rays. The numbers also indicate how long you’re protected for based on your own sensitivity to sunburn. If it normally takes you 10min to burn without sunscreen (fair skin), with SPF10 it will take you 10 times longer to burn (=100min) and with SPF30 it will take you 300 times longer to burn (= 300min). If it normally takes you 30min to burn without sunscreen (darker skin), with SPF10 it will take you 10 times longer to burn (=300min) and with SPF30 it will take you 30 times longer to burn (=900min =15 hours!) However, that’s all lab life and rather different from real life!!! The fact is that most people only apply a quarter of the recommended amount. Also, high SPF can give a false sense of security and people ‘forget’ to re-apply during the day! Usually, dermatologists will recommend SPF30 or SPF50 but in the end, what is most important is that you apply enough and re-apply often. Re-applying sunscreen through the day will also reduce the chance of missing an area.

Mineral vs Chemical sunscreens?

Currently, there is a lot of research ongoing to find out what is the safest sunscreen for both the environment and ourselves. To help you choose, I want you to know there are 2 types of sunscreens:

  • PHYSICAL OR MINERAL SUNSCREENS are made with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. They sit on top of the skin and reflect the UV rays and offer instant protection after application. They should be the first choice for those with sensitive skin and according to the current data are considered safe for our environment.

  • CHEMICAL SUNSCREENS absorb the UV rays and convert the energy. Those sunscreens are only effective approximately 30min after application. They are typically made with ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene, octinoxate, and more unpronounceable names. Some of these chemical filters can cause skin allergy so if you have sensitive skin or known skin conditions such as eczema, it might be better to avoid these chemical sunscreens. There is also emerging evidence that some of the chemical UV filters can disrupt human hormone balance and be toxic to the marine environment and residing ecosystems. The government in Hawai has banned the use of certain chemical sunscreens and recently added two additional chemical filters to the ban. So, next time you go on holiday, you might want to consider an eco-friendly mineral sunscreen! The problem with a lot of the mineral (physical) sunscreens is that they are very white and chalky and annoying to rub in however newer formulations are less white, more transparent and easier to rub in.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.
Baz Luhrmann

Written by:  
Dr Amélie Seghers
Consultant dermatologist

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