Very few of us really bother about what goes into a sunscreen, how they work or even how they might affect our various skin types. One of the key ingredients of a basic sunscreen is PABA-para-amino benzoic acid. PABA and PABA esters protect against UVB rays in the sun. They do not really absorb the rays rather reflect them.
More modern sunscreens are what are called broad-spectrum that also absorb the UVA rays along with UVB rays. So ingredients like benzophenones, oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, salicylates, cinnamates (octylmethyl cinnamate and cinoxate), titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and avobenzone (Parsol 1789), extend the coverage beyond the UVB range and into the UVA range, helping to make sunscreens broad-spectrum.
We all know that SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. Sunscreens are rated or classified by the strength of their SPF. The SPF numbers on the packaging can range from as low as 2 to 50. SPF is actually the sunscreen’s ability to deflect the burning rays. The sunscreen SPF rating is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to produce a sunburn on sunscreen-protected skin to the amount of time needed to cause a sunburn on unprotected skin. “To know how long a sunscreen is going to protect your skin simply multiply the SPF with itself and the result will be time,” says Dr Blossom Kochhar, skin care expert and aromatherapist. In fact, both sunscreen and sunblock refer to the same product. The only difference is that sunblocks have SPF that is 30 and above, while Sunscreens can range from SPF 2 to SPF 30.
Choosing right protection
With increasing fear of sun related skin damage, there are now sunscreens that cater to different needs. There are so many types of sunscreen that selecting the right one can be quite confusing. Sunscreens are available in many forms including ointments, creams, gels, and lotions. The type of sunscreen you choose is a matter of personal choice. According to American Academy of Dermatology, “Ideally, sunscreens should be water-resistant, so they cannot be easily removed by sweating or swimming, and should have an SPF of 15 or higher that provides broad-spectrum coverage against all ultraviolet light wavelengths.”
Dermatologists and skin aestheticians strongly advise using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 year-round for all skin types. However the SPF strength that you decide to pick up will depend on the number of hours you spend daily out in the sun. Most Indian skin types in the heat of the summer can pick up sunscreen with SPF 25 if you plan to spend more than two hours out in the sun.
There are also various types of sunscreens available that matches the different skin types of the users. “It is very important for you to pick the right sunscreen that is meant for your skin type. Using the wrong type of sun protection cream may lead to rashes, allergies and even pimples,” informs Kochhar.
So if you have oily skin or combination skin type then pick up gel sun protection formula as it protects your skin without playing havoc with your oil glands. If you have dry skin then look for a lotion formula that hydrates and protects your skin. If your skin is very dry or sensitive then look for sunscreens with PABA and benzophenones but no alcohol.
With the stress on natural products there are some natural sunscreens available but Kochhar who herself has a natural range says that sunscreens with only natural ingredients do offer sun protection for a long time. However some of the popular natural ingredients that go into making a sunscreen include Aloe gel, sandalwood, oil of wintergreen etc. Most chemical based sunscreens have a shelf life of three years, however you should try and avoid using the same bottle for over a year as far as possible. If you are regular with your sunscreen usage then a bottle should not last you more than a month.