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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Skincare Guide: How to Find the Perfect Sunscreen

Sun protection - a much more complicated subject than most realize. To the point that this post ended up being much longer than I had intended. Due to the vast amount of factors to consider when looking for a sunscreen, I will try my best to break it down for you by answering some questions. 

Question #1: Why do I need to wear sunscreen?

Answer: whenever I get this question, my mind instantly rushes to this image. This was all I needed to motivate me to wear sunscreen everyday. This is the image of a 69 year old male truck driver. As you may have realized, drivers are generally exposed to the sun mainly on one side. Can you guess which one from this picture? The difference here is insane, in my opinion. This is what UVA rays do to your skin, which by the way, windows do not block out...

Question #2: Do I need to wear sunscreen everyday? 

Answer: yes. Regardless of the weather, season (UVA rays are constant year round, clouds or no clouds), or whether you're indoors or not (unless your house has no windows :P). Of course, if you're not going to be sitting in front of a window for most of your day then you can go without it. However, there's no exception if you are going outside.

Question #3: What's the difference between UVB and UVA rays?

Answer: in simplest terms, UVB rays are what burn you and UVA rays are what age you. Both are equally capable of causing skin cancer. UVB rays burn the skin surface, whereas UVA rays penetrate very deep into the dermis (the thickest layer of your skin), so you don't really see the damage immediately like you do with UVB. However, sun exposure accounts for 80% of premature aging. So it's a big deal!

Question #4: What does SPF stand for?

Answer: sun protection factor. But what most people don't know is that SPF is only in regards to protection against UVB rays, not UVA rays. UVA protection is symbolized by the symbol +. Lowest protection being + and highest ++++. So if your sunscreen or makeup, such as foundation, says it has an SPF 15 (which by the way is waaay too low), then it means it's only protecting you from UVB rays, not UVA. Generally, you want to aim for a protection of SPF 30 - 50, with at least +++.

Question #5: What ingredients should I look out for/want in my sunscreen?

Answer: believe it or not, some are more effective than others. There are also 2 different kinds: physical (also known as mineral) and chemical. Chemical works by absorbing the UV rays, while physical reflects the rays off the skin. Personally, I prefer physical because it's non-irritating (some people might be sensitive to chemical sunscreen), but I'd happily use chemical as well if it has decent protection. However, something to keep in mind: there are only 17 approved chemical ingredients in the US and Canada, and only about 7 of them are regularly used in products, whereas the European Union has 27 approved ingredients. So you will see a big difference in sun screen ranges between the EU and North America, with the EU having the better and bigger selection.
There are two forms of physical sunscreen: Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. Titanium Dioxide blocks out all UVB rays, but only half of UVA rays, whereas Zinc Oxide blocks out both completely. So naturally, I would suggest finding a sunscreen that's high in Zinc Oxide. 

Question #6: What ingredients should I avoid in my sunscreen?

perfect example of a sunscreen to avoid (a La-Roche Posay sunscreen ingredients list)

Answer: Oxybenzone - a form of chemical sunscreen that is officially known as a hormone disruptor, avoid at all costs! Several well-known brands still use this ingredient, such as Neutrogenia

Alcohol: generally, alcohol is known for irritating and drying out your skin. If it's in the top 10 ingredients on the list, put down the product and walk away. Unfortunately, this is incredibly common in most sunscreens. If, however, it's at the very bottom of the list, then the amount in the formula is scarce and therefore perfectly fine to use. 

Alcohol Denat: same as alcohol. Avoid unless at the bottom of the list. 

Mineral Oil (usually listed as paraffinum liquidum): a cheap moisturizing ingredient known for clogging up pores. Yuck.

Question #7: Is tanning safe as long as I don't get a sunburn?

Answer: NOOOOO. There is no such thing as a safe tan!! Having a tan in itself is a sign of DNA damage in the skin. So you really have only two options then: either embrace your paleness or use fake tan. 

Question #8: Is the SPF in my makeup or moisturizer enough to protect me or should I always use a separate sunscreen? 

Answer: NOPE. 1) Putting makeup on top of a moisturizer with SPF reduces the effectiveness by half. 2)You don't put enough foundation on your face to protect your skin as you would with a separate sunscreen. Rule of thumb is to apply at least 1/4 of a teaspoon of sunscreen onto your face, so you do need to be liberal. And if you did apply that much foundation, my god! Imagine the cake face :P. Also foundations are designed to do the job of makeup, not skincare. 

Question #9: Are spray sunscreens safe to use?

Answer: this one bummed me out too (everybody loves the conveniency), but sadly they really do not provide you with much protection. You're simply not applying as much as you would with a lotion. Sprays actually give you a quarter of the protection of what they promise, so if you're applying an SPF 50 spray, then you're only really getting SPF 12. For further details, you can check out this post by Future Derm:

Question #10: But I don't like the feel of sunscreen

Answer: obviously that's not so much a question but a phrase that is uttered very often. But don't fret, there's good news! There are plenty of companies with brilliantly formulated sunscreens that when applied, feel like luxurious moisturizers and even come with some nice skincare ingredients. There's no need to buy the icky heavy stuff anymore. Science and formulations have come a long way since our childhoods spent at the beach. You simply have to know which ones to get. Which leads us to....

Recommendations for Sunscreens: 

(all recommendations are linked. $ stands for cheap, $$ stands for very affordable, $$$ stands for pricy, $$$$ stands for expensive)

Sadly, I have only found one single decent sunscreen by a western company, but luckily for us Asia (especially Korea) produce brilliant sunscreens. 

And that wraps up the sun protection post! 
Next time on The Skincare Guide: Cleansing Properly


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