If you've been ignoring that tube of sunscreen sitting on your vanity, it's time you read this article till the end. Sunscreens have become integral to our skincare routine, and we can't do without them. But we must admit that picking the right sunscreen is confusing. Given that sunscreens come with different SPF numbers, it isn't easy to understand what's right for you. We often end up wondering what SPF is ideal. Will a sunscreen with a higher SPF value protect my skin better? What is a broad-spectrum sunscreen? What's the difference between SPF 50 and SPF 30? And the list is endless.
Firstly, let's understand why it is so important to use sunscreen.
Exposure to UVA, UVB, and other harmful rays emitted by the sun can cause not only tanning but also skin ageing, wrinkles, and, worse cases, skin cancer. These UV rays emitted by the sun are not visible to the naked eye but can be damaging in the long run. To avoid this – it is advisable to put on some sun protection cream and repeat the same every 2 hours, wear a wide-brimmed hat, and keep your skin covered while you're out and about.
Applying sunscreen at home and during the winter months is essential. We often think our skin is well protected indoors and during the colder months, but that's not true. Similarly, when you're travelling by flight, you may think that your skin is well protected, while the truth is that your skin is more exposed to UV rays than it is on ordinary days, making it extremely crucial to put on sun protection. According to the WHO, sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before sun exposure with reapplication every 2 hours or after every time you sweat, swim, or bathe.
Before we move on to what SPF sunscreen is the best for you, let us give a gist about the science behind it.
Sunscreens come in various options, ranging from SPF 15 to SPF 100, but the question that arises here is, 'Will a high SPF sunscreen protect the skin better? In the latter half of this article, we'll explore the efficacy of high SPF sunscreens and shed some light on the matter.
To understand the effectiveness of sunscreens, we must first comprehend how SPF works. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The SPF number on a sunscreen tube or bottle determines when it'll take you to get a sunburn post-application vs. not wearing it at all. Here's an example that'll help you understand this better.
Example: If you can spend 10 minutes in the sun without getting a tan, a sunscreen with SPF10 will multiply this self-protection time by ten, which equals 100. This means it can protect your skin from tanning for up to 100 minutes.
It's important to note that no sunscreen can provide 100% protection. However, higher SPF values offer more protection against UVB rays and help prevent sunburns. But what about UVA rays? This is where the effectiveness of high-SPF sunscreen comes into question. While SPF primarily measures the protection from UVB rays, it does not necessarily correlate to UVA protection. Therefore, the SPF value alone does not determine how well a sunscreen guards against UVA radiation.
Broad-spectrum sunscreens were introduced to tackle the issue of UVA protection. These sunscreens aim to shield the skin against both UVA and UVB rays. They contain ingredients such as avobenzone, titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide, which act as filters to absorb or reflect harmful rays. When searching for sunscreen, it is essential to look for the 'broad-spectrum' label to ensure comprehensive protection against both types of UV rays.
Back to the original question: does a high SPF sunscreen protect the skin better? While higher SPF values offer increased protection against UVB rays, it does not guarantee better UVA protection. Some studies suggest that higher SPF sunscreens may provide a false sense of security, leading individuals to spend more time in the sun without sunscreen. This can increase UVA exposure, which can still cause skin damage, even without sunburns.
To make an informed decision about sunscreen, it is vital to consider other factors apart from SPF. Dermatologists recommend broad-spectrum sunscreens with SPF between 30 and 50, as they have been proven to provide sufficient protection against UVA and UVB rays. Factors such as application technique, frequency of reapplication, and sun-protective habits also significantly shield the skin from the sun's harmful effects. Sunscreen alone should not be relied upon as the sole defence against harmful UV rays.
While high SPF sunscreens offer increased protection against UVB rays, the effectiveness of sunscreen should not be solely determined by its SPF value. Selecting broad-spectrum sunscreens that effectively shield the skin against UVA and UVB rays is crucial. Also, sun-safe habits and other sun protection measures are essential for overall skin health. So, the next time you reach out for sunscreens, consider more than just the SPF number and take a comprehensive approach to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays.