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How to choose a sunscreen: Understanding SPF, the things to look for in the sunscreen and more!

Updated on April 23, 2013
How to choose a sunscreen?
How to choose a sunscreen? | Source

Summer is here and it’s time to protect ourselves from the harshness of the sun. Our ozone layer and atmosphere prevents a huge amount of harmful rays from entering the atmosphere of Earth, but still the amount of sun rays which is entering Earth’s atmosphere is enough to cause skin damage, and this is what makes it a must to use a sunscreen while going out. Whether planning to go out in the beaches or some work purposes, a sunscreen is what you need.

Now talking about sunscreens, what is the exact need of a sunscreen?

Sun rays contain various radiations. One of these radiations is the Ultraviolet rays. These UV rays is what that makes sunscreen a must. Out of various kinds of UV rays UVA and UVB cause various skin problems due to sun exposure. UVB is the ray responsible for sunburn, whereas UVA is responsible skin problems like, suntan, premature aging, wrinkles, and spots. UVB is the ray which affects skin superficially but UVA has the ability to penetrate down the deeper tissues. Both of these rays are responsible for causing skin cancer.

Ouch! Sunburn.
Ouch! Sunburn. | Source

Sunscreen is required to prevent the direct contact between these harmful rays and the tissues. Sunscreen increases the time for which you can stand under the sun without getting any burns. However, it's not true that you're 100% protected when you use a sunscreen but it definitely protects your skin for a longer time. Anybody who go out a lot or work under the sun for a longer time should use a sunscreen to avoid any long term skin problems, of which the most severe one is the skin cancer.

Now, knowing the importance of a sunscreen, the question is: what kind of sunscreen should you use? There are a lot of sunscreen varieties available in the market and it’s often pretty confusing which one to choose out of them. Which one is best for you? Which one would give the best protection against sun? How to choose a sunscreen? If you’re looking for the answers of these questions you are at the right place.

Should I go with SPF 45 or SPF 110?
Should I go with SPF 45 or SPF 110? | Source

What SPF do you use?

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What is SPF?

When we go to market to buy a sunscreen, the first thing that we look upon is the SPF. But what is this SPF? SPF or Sun Protecting Factor refers to the ability of the sunscreen to block UVB rays of the sun. It represents the time for which the sunscreen will protect you from sunburn in comparison when you don’t wear any sunscreen.

It is very obvious for a regular customer to think that the SPF number written on the sunscreen bottle represents the effectiveness of the sunscreen. We think that SPF 30 would be twice as good as SPF 15, and the sunscreens with even higher SPF would be even more effective. But in real it doesn’t work in that way. Some researches have shown that SPF 15 blocks about 94% of UVB, SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays and SPF 45 blocks 98% of the UVB rays. Sunscreen with higher SPF blocks higher amount of rays but none of them offers 100% protection. So with these numbers we can interpret that there’s actually very less difference between various SPF’s. Therefore we can conclude that various SPF’s are almost equally effective in preventing sunburns. However, higher SPF provides more protection against long term skin damage and skin cancer caused by sun ray's exposure.

Which one to choose?
Which one to choose? | Source

How to choose a sunscreen?

  1. See your budget: Of course you won't like to use a sunscreen which is too expensive. Also, if its too heavy and greasy on your face you may not want to use it.

  2. Check for ingredients: See for Zinc oxide and Titanium dioxide. As mentioned above, SPF represents the ability of the sunscreen to block the UVB rays. But what about UVA rays? They are even more harmful. So, what should you look for to prevent the UVA rays? Zinc oxide and titanium dioxides are the complete blockers of sun rays. They block both UVA and UVB rays. Also, there are some chemical sunscreens like avobenzone (aka parsol 1789). However, avobenzone degrades under the sun. Therefore a photo-stabilized form should be searched like Helioplex, which is a blended form of avobenzone and oxybenzone. Other than avobenzone, mexoryl- also known as Ecamsule, can be searched which is also a chemical sunscreen.

  3. Select the bottle labelled as “Broad Spectrum”: Broad spectrum simply means that the sunscreen gives protection from both UVA and UVB rays i.e contains zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or any other chemical sunscreen. Sometimes you can find complete or total protection written on the bottle, which represents the same meaning. Also, PA +++ represents that the sunscreen blocks UVA. It's important to check the labellings. These labellings differs in different countries as per the rules set by the FDA of your country, therefore if not written on the bottle you should check the ingredients.

  4. SPF: As for SPF selection, in case you're not exposed to sun much then SPF 30 is sufficient for you, and is recommended by a lot of specialists. But in case you're spending a very long time under the sun frequently or even everyday e.g. if you're in construction, then higher SPF is what you need to avoid severe skin problems. Also, people with a very fair people and those who have a history of skin cancer should use a higher SPF.

How much time you should spend under sun with sunscreen on?

Now, you have your sunscreen on. But for how much time it will give you protection? Of course it doesn't give you a permanent protection!

With the SPF number you can calculate how much time you can spend under the sun (as given by Discovery Networks)

Maximum sun exposure time= Minutes to burn without sunscreen x SPF number

e.g. If without sunscreen you start to burn after 10 mins and if you're using SPF 15 then with the sunscreen on you can stand under sun for 150 mins without any burns.

But the result may not come true for you because we don't use the amount of sunscreen used in labs for testing. We use a lot less amount than what is used during the tests. In reality we use only half the amount of sunscreen used during the lab tests. So, this means that if 150 mins is what you calculated, then with half the amount you'll get protection for only half the total time i.e.only 75 mins.

Tips to get maximum protection from sun

  1. Sunscreen should be applied 20-30 min before you go under the sun. The sunscreen needs to be absorbed in your skin to give you a better protection.
  2. You need to reapply the sunscreen, usually in every 2 hours. See the back of the bottle to check when to reapply the sunscreen. It's usually 2 hours. This is because there is time limit for which the ingredients can survive under the sun. So, once the ingredients breakdown it will be ineffective. No matter how high SPF you use it will be useless because there's nothing left which would give you protection. Photo-stable versions of the chemical sunscreen do increase the life span but doesn't completely make the chemical sunscreen resistant. So, don't think that you've applied sunscreen in the morning so by the noon you're still sun protected, because the thing dries up! So, keep reapplying. Reapply after swimming. Also, when you're sweating you need to reapply the sunscreen even more often.
  3. Take adequate amount of sunscreen and take some time to massage it properly in your skin.
  4. Don't forget to apply sunscreen on ears, back of neck, hand, top of your feet and all the other areas exposed, besides your face. Sunscreen only protects the area it is applied on!
  5. Don't just rely on sunscreen. Use hat and umbrella to protect yourself.
  6. Avoid going out during the hottest hours of the day. Prefer going out during evening for hangouts.

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    • Sneha Sunny profile image

      Sneha Sunny 4 years ago from India

      NMlady... It's good to go under the sun only when absolutely necessary and for a very less time! I can understand why that place has a high skin cancer rate. Desert!

      Thanks for stopping by and your comment! :)

    • NMLady profile image

      NMLady 4 years ago from New Mexico & Arizona

      AZ Sonoran desert dweller here. The sun is brutal on skin. Thanks for all the good advice. I use water proof SPF 70 and only go out in the sun for 15 minutes at a time. We have lots of skin cancer here....second only to Australia! Still I love my swimming and outdoors activities!

      Thanks for a thorough article. Good writing!

    • Sneha Sunny profile image

      Sneha Sunny 4 years ago from India

      lovedoctor926... We are not experts and we do not possess much of knowledge about the things we use everyday. We just believe what the ads say, to increase their sales. This lack of knowledge is what that makes us use the product inappropriately.

      You got tanned even when there was no sun, probably because of clouds? But what happens is the sun rays are scattered around. Therefore, you got tanned. And it's a misconception that tanning only occurs when you're out. Tanning can occur even when you're sitting in your home because of the same scattering of the sun rays.

      I'm glad you found this hub useful! Thanks for stopping by and leaving your valuable comment! :)

    • profile image

      lovedoctor926 4 years ago

      Thanks for this useful information. I have medium complexion. When I go to the beach, I put on Coppertone SPF 50 on my face and body before going in the water and after. However, I do burn regardless and eventually tan. Recently, I went to the beach. There was hardly any sun and I got a bad sunburn. The same thing happened when I went to Nassau last summer. thanks for sharing. I have a better understanding after reading this hub.

    • Sneha Sunny profile image

      Sneha Sunny 4 years ago from India

      mr-veg... Ouch for the sunburns! I would say that use sunscreen when out in the sun for a longer time.

      Thank you for stopping by and for a nice comment! :)

    • mr-veg profile image

      mr-veg 4 years ago from Colorado United States

      Nice one Sneha :) I still remember the sub burns that I got from my GOA and FLorida trips :D ....I should have taken your tips while planning the trip :)

    • Sneha Sunny profile image

      Sneha Sunny 4 years ago from India

      carol7777.. A home made sunscreen is a great idea! Never tried before but certainly want to. Thank you for stopping by, commenting, voting up and sharing. :)

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      Lots of good advice here especially as we head into summer. I just made my own sunscreen..nice to know there are no chemicals. Great hub and voting up and sharing.