Sunscreen Essentials

Summer = Sun and plenty of it especially here in South Africa. We all know that we need to be wearing sunscreens or sun tan lotions every day and that our kids should be smothered in the stuff too but when faced with the information overload about sunscreens not to mention the overwhelming number of options to choose from it can be difficult to know where to start.

To help bring some clarity to the subject I thought I would write a brief article about Sunscreens followed on Thursday by a round up of some of the locally available sunscreens I have tested recently….. A Battle of the Sunscreens so to speak.

Why you need to use sunscreen

South Africa has the second highest rate of skin cancer in the world, with skin cancer being the most common form of cancer in South Africa.

About 70% of aging is caused by sun damage!

A good sunscreen is a very important element in your skincare regime, its more important than all the other expensive creams and serums you use in terms of delaying ageing!

You need to wear sunscreen everyday even if the weather is rainy or overcast even if you work in an office all day.

We tan in the sun because of melanin that forms in our skin as a result of damage to the skin’s DNA. A tanned skin is NOT a happy skin!

Some people tan faster than others because they produce more melanin more rapidly, while people who produce the least melanin are those who burn more easily and are therefore at greater risk in the sun.

What is UV?

The effects of the sun’s rays also vary depending on how strong the radiation is and on where we are – the nearer we are to the equator, the stronger the sun is.

UV (ultra-violet) radiation is part of the electromagnetic light spectrum emanating from the sun and the wavelengths are classified as UVA, UVB, or UVC, according to how long they are.

By damaging the cellular DNA of our skin, excessive UV radiation can produce the genetic mutations that lead to skin cancer.

UVA and UVB rays cause your skin to react by over producing melanin as a defense mechanism which results in a red or brown pigment to your skin.

UVA radiation refers to the ultraviolet rays that penetrate deeper into the skin, causing UVA causes the breakdown in collagen which results in premature aging and wrinkling. UVA rays are more prevalent, accounting for up to ninety-five percent of the radiation reaching the earth’s surface. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB do, and recent studies confirm that they are not only responsible for premature ageing and wrinkling of the skin, but also contribute to the initiation and development of cancerous cells. Many sunscreens don’t have UVA protection. Ingredients that work well to protect against UVA radiation include oxybensone and sulisobenzone.

UVB radiation is the most damaging as these are the sun’s burning rays that cause the painful redness and are also the primary cause of skin cancer. They damage the more superficial layers of the skin. Unlike UVA, the intensity of UVB varies depending on season, location, and time of day.

UVC are the shortest and are almost completely absorbed by the ozone layer before reaching earth, but both UVA and UVB penetrate our atmosphere and play a significant role in premature skin ageing, eye conditions like cataracts, and skin cancers.

What is SPF?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and it is a vital aspect when it comes to buying sunscreen.

Rather than being an indication of a specific amount of protection, SPF is a measure of how long it will take skin to redden when using the product compared to how long it takes to redden without the product.

SPF numbers start at 2 and go higher than 60. They indicate the theoretical maximum sun exposure time.

If you normally burn after 10 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen), then an SPF 30 will let you stay in the sun for up to 300 minutes without burning. It doesn’t mean that SPF 30 gives double the protection of SPF 15: an SPF 15 product screens ninety-three percent of the sun’s UVB rays, SPF 30 protects against ninety-seven percent, and SPF 50 screens ninety-eight percent.

An SPF 60 product is only two percent more effective than an SPF 30 one.

It is recommended in South African to always use a high SPF – more than 15 at least.

SPF 15, 20, 25 offers medium protection

SPF 30 and 50 offers high protection

SPF ratings measure only protection against UVB rays and don’t give an indication of how well a product will protect you from UVA radiation.

How much protection do I need?

There are approximately 7 different skin types identified worldwide.

Here are a few of the common types. The exposure time listed is how long that skin type can stay in the sun without burning.

Type 1: extremely fair complexion, red or blonde hair, light eyes, freckles, very sensitive skin, burns quickly, seldom tans
Exposure time = 3 – 10 mins per day.

Type 2: fair complexion, blonde hair, light eyes, often freckles, often burns, lightly tans
Exposure time = 10 – 20 mins per day

Type 3: medium complexion, brown hair and eyes, may burn, if used to sun develops a tan.
Exposure time = 20 – 30 mins per day

Type 4: olive or dark complexion, dark brown/ black hair, dark eyes, tans easily, seldom sun sensitive
Exposure time = 45 mins per day

To select the correct SPF for your needs times the SPF by the no of mins you will be staying in the sun

Tips for buying sunscreen

Sunscreen products combine organic and inorganic chemicals to filter the light from the sun so that less of it reaches the deeper layers of your skin.

There are two main types of sunscreens:

Physical, which reflect the harmful rays away from the skin

Chemical, which absorbs the rays and neutralizes them.

There has been a lot of debate about whether physical sunscreens are better for you than chemical. Dermatologists and skin therapists are divided on which type of sunscreen is better for you.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreens containing only Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide are less prone to irritate sensitive skins.

The top three ingredients listed are the key ingredients.

For physical/ mineral protection you want to see Zinc or Titanium Dioxide.

Chemical ingredients are avobenzone (which may also be listed as butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane), ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, Mexoryl SX (ecamsule), or Tinosorb.

Look for words like “Broad Spectrum”, “Multi Spectrum” or “UVA/ UVB Protection” this means the sunscreen has both UVA/UVB protection.

The key to decent sun protection is generous application which means that cheaper options are sometimes better because if your sunscreen was expensive you’re going to skimp!

Choose a sunscreen that is water-resistant if you’re going to be swimming.

When it comes to the choice between a cream, an oil or a spray, oils do not contain sufficient amounts of sunscreen and it would be necessary to re-apply very frequently.

How to use sunscreen

Apply sunscreen to skin evenly and generously – an adult should use around two tablespoons full for their entire body.

Apply your sunscreen to dry skin

Apply at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun – preferably indoors or in the shade.

When applying sunscreen pay particular attention to the vulnerable parts of the body – nose (esp the bridge and creases), lips, eyebrows, ears, scalp, shoulders, chest, shins and feet.

Reapply frequently, especially after swimming or sweating or every 2 hours. Renewing the sun protection does not prolong the protective effect.

Use water resistant sun protection whenever you are swimming. Even if it says waterproof it doesn’t mean you don’t have to apply again. After intensive or prolonged water contact we recommend you reapply your sun protection:

Avoid exposure during peak UV radiation hours (between 11am and 3pm) because the sun is directly overhead and the radiation is very strong. Don’t forget you will still tan in the shade.

Beware of the reflection factor of bright surfaces such as sand, concrete, snow etc. which reflect and intensify the radiation.

According to dermatologists, a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 is adequate protection for most of us, apart from young children, people prone to eczema, or those with especially sensitive skin. They recommend the use sunscreen all year round – even in winter or if you are based in an office as UVA rays can penetrate through clear glass windows.

Do not expose babies to the sun (under 12 months).

Children need extra protection – remember the “3 S” rule – (sunhat, shirt and shorts) and use a high sun protection preferably without chemical UV-Filters, rather 100% mineral sun protection.

Remember sunscreens have a 12 month lifespan after they’ve been opened, less if exposure to heat and sunlight. Old products from last summer may no longer be effective.

Other tips to avoid sunburn

Even when wearing sunscreen it’s still better to stay out of the sun as much as possible!

Seek the shade whenever possible, especially 10am and 4pm when UVB rays are at their most intense.

Avoid sunbeds – these eliminate the UVB rays, so you don’t “burn” – but it is a concentrated form of UVA rays that causes aging.

Opt for make-up with a high SPF. Look for something that offers maximum foundation coverage, protects against sun damage and moisture loss and is suitable for swimming.

Pay special attention to side effects of any medication in the sun. Ask your doctor or your pharmacist for advice.

Do not use deodorants or perfume in the sun to avoid unattractive skins spots, pigmentation and sun allergies such as Prickly Heat rash.

Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothes that keep your skin covered.

Remember to also ensure that your kids wear a swimming costumes or rash vest with UVA and UVB protection.

Wear a wide-brimmed hat and don’t forget about sunglasses for ALL members of the family, not just the adults!

I hope you have found the article helpful and you’ll be a bit more sunscreen savvy this summer because of it!

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Head over here to read my Battle of the Sunscreens article for more info on the products featured in the photo above.

Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!

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