Before you buy a sunscreen, there are some points you should keep in mind.
Buying a sunscreen is not like buying potatoes. (It sounds like a silly analogy, but have patience, we’re going somewhere with us.) The thing is, you could always buy another bag of the tubers, but replacing burnt skin is not that easy. So be armed with some basic information before heading to shop for something as important as “sun protection”.
Sun block or sun screen?
First and foremost, you need to know that there’s a difference between “sunscreen” and “sunblock”. Sunscreens are “chemical blockers” which absorb the sun’s UV rays so they don’t reach your skin and should be applied at least 15-20 minutes prior to stepping out in the sun. On the other hand, a sunblock is a “physical blocker” which sits on the skin and reflects back the UV rays (visualise those cricketers with that white paste on their faces). Both work equally well and you can choose which one you’d like to use depending on the nature of your activity and how sensitive your skin is.
Choose according to the activity
If you are planning on some strenuous exercise or a dip under water, choose sun protection that is water-proof, so that it stays on even when you are drenched in sweat or water.
“SPF” is the key word
Sunscreens are rated by Sun Protection Factor (SPF). SPF indicates the level of protection and should be understood clearly before you buy a sunscreen/block.
There are different ways of calculating the SPF requirement of your skin depending on your skin colour, how easily you burn, if you’re around water as well the altitude you’re at.
For a general calculation, you could use this formula:
SPF X 10 = Minutes of sun protection
For example, if you normally get burned in 10 minutes, with SPF 15 you can stay outdoors for 150 minutes without getting tanned (15 x 10 minutes).
Check the expiration date
To make sure the content is still potent and effective, check the expiration date. Throw away the tube if you’ve had it for more than a year.
Be “Broad Spectrum”
An ideal sunscreen should offer “broad spectrum protection” to save your skin against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for one that contains Mexoryl.
Read the label
Go through the contents list carefully and buy a brand that does not contain para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) if you are sensitive to that ingredient.
Consider your skin type
Before buying the product, pay attention to your skin type. People with oily and acne-prone skin can go for water-based options. If your skin is dry, the standard greasy ones will do.
Stay away from exaggerated campaigns
Be sceptical of claims like “all-day protection”, “natural” and “blocks all harmful rays”. All sunscreens contain chemicals and have to be reapplied every couple of hours. Also, an expensive brands doesn’t always mean better. So choose wisely.