Sunscreen 101: What to Know, What to Buy, and How to Use

SPF, PA++, UVB, UVA—beauty jargon confusing you? Two experts in the biz break down everything to know before buying sun protection.

Soaking up the winter sun is soothing—besides, what better way to get your healthy dose of Vitamin D? That said, as you bathe in midday rays, make sure you're all prepped (and when we say 'prepped', we mean LOAD UP ON THE SUNSCREEN). Cause sun exposure = fine lines, pigmentation, dryness, melanoma, and a whole lot else you don't want to get into. 

Solution? Slather on a generous layer of sunscreen, and reapply every 3-4 hours. But let's tackle the most important bit first: Which sunscreen to pick amid the array of labels and types? (This one's a toughie, tbh). Since we don't expect you to wrap your head around *super* confusing beauty terms such as UVA, UVB, and PA+++, we took the help of two experts to decode the jargon. 

Zoya Ali, National Training Head, Innisfree, explains, "When outdoors—and often indoors too—your skin gets exposed to a multitude of external aggressors, such as pollution and UVA and UVB rays. The ultraviolet rays from sunlight can be extremely damaging, making it crucial to apply sunscreen all year round. Sunscreen protects your skin and minimises the damage caused by these harmful rays, fighting signs of premature ageing and free radical damage."

Dr Ipsita Chatterjee, Lotus Herbals, breaks down a few common terms you'd often spot on sunscreen labels:

UV: Ultraviolet is the higher-energy version of light that can further be divided into A and B categories.

UVA: These are the rays that penetrate the skin's deepest layers and have the potential to cause the most damage, leading to signs of premature ageing.

UVB: These rays act on the surface of the skin, often causing sunburn, skin tan, and skin rashes.

Broad Spectrum: A broad-spectrum product offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

SPF: Sun Protection Factor (SPF) measures how long your sunscreen will protect your skin against UVB rays.

PA: It is the level of protection against UVA rays.

PA+, PA++, and PA+++ indicate greater protection against UVA rays. 

Types of Sunscreen

According to Zoya, there are primarily two types of sunscreen to choose from: 

1. Chemical Sunscreen - Chemical sunscreens, also known as organic or synthetic sunscreens, absorb the UV rays, convert them into heat, and release them from the body. Since ingredients such as avobenzone and octisalate may irritate the skin, look out for ingredients such as sunflower oil, rice bran oil, and wheat germ oil, which are rich in Vitamin E, and antioxidants that prevent free radical damage.

2. Mineral Sunscreen - Mineral sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens, act as a physical barrier that reflects/scatters the ultraviolet rays from the sun. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the key active ingredients in mineral sunscreens and are gentle on all skin types. 

Sunscreen For Different Skin Types

According to Dr Chatterjee, if your skin type is oily, you should use a sunscreen that gives a non-greasy, matte finish or has a gel-based matte formulation. On the other hand, if you possess dry skin, opt for a hydration-packed sunscreen that not only shields your skin from ultraviolet rays but also maximises moisturisation. Lastly, if your skin doesn't often flake and your pores don't get clogged with oil, you can pick a sunscreen that is lightweight, non-greasy, and delivers optimal sun protection."

How to Correctly Apply Sunscreen

"About 1/3 to 1/2 a teaspoon of sunscreen should be applied on your entire face and neck to ensure full coverage. You must also cover all exposed areas such as your legs, ears, arms, and hands. Reapplication of sunscreen every 2-3 hours is paramount since SPF protection often fades over time, irrespective of perspiration. Make sure that you don’t mix your sunscreen with makeup or BB/CC creams. Layer your sunscreen separately to ensure full protection against harmful UV rays. Double cleanse your skin with cleansing oil and a cleansing foam at the end of the day to ensure that you get rid of all the SPF particles," Zoya puts forth. 

How Much to Apply and How Often?

"Applying sunscreen once in the morning isn't enough, especially if you're planning to step out. Make sure that you reapply a sunscreen of SPF 30 or more every two hours. If you're venturing outdoors, apply it 15 minutes prior, as it may take a while to settle down and get absorbed into your skin. On the other hand, a water-resistant sunscreen will protect your skin for about 40-80 minutes in water, depending on the composition. When indoors, you must apply sunscreen as well, and here's why—while your window may filter out the UVB Rays, UVA rays can still penetrate through, causing significant skin damage," informs Dr Chatterjee. 

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