Guide to choosing the right sunscreen while on lockdown

Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 17 2021 06:47 AM

MANILA -- If your sunscreen has been collecting dust since the lockdown, grab that bottle and slather some on ASAP! 

While you probably already know it is important to wear (and reapply) SPF outdoors, cosmetic dermatologist Eleanor Reyes said doing the same is just as imperative even when you are at home. 

“We might be safe from the sun by staying inside because of the pandemic. But most of us work from home and are exposed to our computers more than half of the time. These infrared rays can break down your collagen; hence, accelerate aging,” she explained. 

She went on: “Infrared rays are almost everywhere... from anything that emits heat. That includes your TV, laptop, cellphone, light bulbs,... This is why it is best to check if your sunblock can protect you from infrared rays.” 

Being cooped up didn’t exactly save you from the sun's skin-damaging light either. While being indoors prevented sunburns caused by UVB rays, the aesthetics doctor stressed UVA rays are “strong enough to penetrate through windows.” 

“UVA rays are longer and are usually associated with photoaging… Their effect on the skin takes a while to manifest but it actually builds up and can damage the cells. While UVB rays are shorter and manifest faster in the form of burning and suntan, ” Reyes warned. “I know that most of us wear sunblock on the beach to avoid sunburn, when in fact the sun emits 500 times more UVA than UVB.” 

Neglecting sun protection, however, will cause more than just cosmetic problems. 

“You need to wear sunscreen even when you’re staying inside and even when the weather is gloomy… UV radiation, in general, can cause basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, which are known skin cancers,” she warned. 

Given that pampering your skin with SPF every single day is not debatable, choosing an effective sunscreen that looks and feels good is crucial.

As a general rule of thumb, dermatologists recommend using products that carry a minimum of SPF 30. 

“The SPF you see on sunscreens refers to the number of minutes your skin can be exposed to the sun without getting red or burned. This means that the sun protection factor (SPF) written on sunscreens usually refers to UVB,” Reyes explained.

“You should also go for sunscreens with the broad-spectrum label on to be sure that the sunscreen can protect you from both UVB and UVA,” she added. 

But finding the right UV protection is a little more complicated than that. According to the doctor, there are two types of sunscreen: chemical and physical.

“Usually, sunscreen refers to chemical sunscreen, whereas sunblock refers to physical sunscreen. Chemical sunscreen (e.g. oxybenzone, avobenxone, and octinoxate) counteracts the effects of UV light, while the physical (e.g. titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) sunscreen blocks the UV rays from being absorbed into the skin,” she expounded.

Various ingredients and chemicals are added and blended into the said sunscreens creating distinct products which deliver unique results. Different skin types, concerns, and even areas on the body will require different solutions.

Picky, a skin type and product analyzer, broke down the different formulations into digestible nuggets to help you find the best fit: 

GEL-BASED

If you’re skipping sunscreen because you dislike the sticky feeling, gel-based products might be your saving grace. If you have oily, sensitive, or acne-prone this formula is a great option. Made with mixes of liquid phase (usually water, alcohol or oil) and polymeric gelling agents, this sunscreen is lightweight and soft on the skin. This UV protection won’t make your face shiny and will instead leave you with a matte finish.

On the flip side, gel-based types have a lower SPF rating and poor water-resistance -- so reapply often! Also be mindful of formulas mixed with alcohol because they can dry the skin (and lead to more oil production). 

EMULSION-BASED 

Emulsion-based solutions are the most common type of sunscreen in the market and often incorporate other promising skincare substances such as humectant, emollients, moisturizing agents, anti-oxidants, and even anti-aging active ingredients. 

This UV protection comes in two variations: oil in water (O/W) and water in oil (W/O).The former absorbs quickly, gives a smooth and silky feeling, and produces minimal grease. On the downside, the O/W modification washes off in water easily. Meanwhile, the latter provides better water resistance and protection against humidity and cold. W/O, however, is slightly greasier and offers less penetration of actives.

The thinner and more watery emulsions are also referred to as lotions, fluids or milks. This variation is generally suitable for all skin types (depending on the mixed ingredients). Meanwhile, emulsions that are thicker are labeled as gel-creams (lighter weight cream) and creams. The former are better options for oily and acne prone skin while the latter are fitted for normal to dry skin. Looking for formulas with added moisturizing components are also highly beneficial for dry skin.

Emulsion-based types, unfortunately, are thermodynamically unstable. High temperatures might cause the product to destabilize and separate — so make sure to shake well before using. Given its consistency, re-applying can also be messy.

SUN STICKS OR BALMS

Sticks and balms are ideal for the No. 1 part of the body people forget to protect from the sun — the lips!

Our lips receive the same amount of UV rays as our face. Thus, failing to apply sunscreen on this area will not only put you at risk for sunburn, it can also lead to cancer. 

Compared to other formulations, this type of sun protection is the most water-resistant. This product is the best used for water activities, toddlers, and adults with extremely dry skin.

Made with oils and oil soluble ingredients that are thickened with waxes or petrolatum, sticks and balms, can be heavy and greasy. This variation may also be more difficult to apply to larger areas. 

OIL-BASED

Oil-based sunscreens are the oldest type in the book — so they might be a little outdated. 

Living up to its name, the salve has an oily finish. While it can give normal to dry complexions a “rad­­iant glow” effect, it may feel heavy on the skin. This version also has the poorest SPF performance and needs to be reapplied more frequently. 

Picky warned not to use it as the main source of sun protection and recommended merely applying it as a lip or body oil instead. 

SPF MAKEUP

Hate layering products on your face? Numerous brands produce moisturizers, foundations, setting powders, eye creams etc. fused with UV filters. 

While the multi-purpose cosmetic is convenient, most sunscreens of this type carry low SPF and offer no UVA protection. Due to its formulation, the products may not result in an even coverage, further reducing its effectiveness. 

Similar to oil-based sunscreen, SPF make-ups should not be used on its own. 

AEROSOL

Spray sunscreens are the easiest variation to apply and only forms a thin film on the skin. But since most are oil-based, it can leave you with a shine as well. 

Medical experts and conservationists, however, advised steering clear of this type of sunscreen because it contains toxic chemicals that can endanger our health when inhaled as well as harm coral reefs and other biodiversity. 

WATCH OUT FOR THE INGREDIENTS

On top of finding the right formula, Picky said choosing products with the right ingredient for your complexion can further boost its effectiveness.

For oily skin, the skincare app recommended keeping an eye out for sunscreens formulas combined with green tea, tea tree oil, and niacinamide. Meanwhile, dry skin types should look for the ingredients ceramides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and honey.

On the other hand, if you have sensitive skin, the skincare analyzer advised avoiding products with alcohol, fragrances, oxybenzone, para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), salicylates, and cinnamates and should instead opt for physical sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, in addition to ingredients like panthenol, allantoin, and madecassoside. According to Picky, these chemicals have soothing properties that can reduce irritation.

Knowing the components of your sunscreen, however, can not only protect your skin but our ailing environment as well. The ugly truth is, your sunscreen might be causing permanent DNA damage to our already dwindling coral reefs. 

Haeretics Environmental Laboratory (HEL), a non-profit, scientific organization whose mission is to conserve wildlife and ecosystems, identified the following chemicals as pollutants and urged the public to shun products with the following ingredients: oxybenzone (the most common compound in sunscreens), octinoxate, octocrylene, any nanoparticles like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, octocrylene para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), methyl, paraben, ethyl paraben, propyl paraben, butyl paraben, benzyl paraben, and triclosan. 

Not only do the residue of the aforementioned ingredients damage coral reefs, they can also wreak havoc in beaches, other ocean systems, freshwater streams, rivers, and lakes, consequently harm wildlife including "fish, birds, marine mammals, sea turtles, etc.”

BEYOND SUNSCREEN

Aside from wearing sunscreen, Reyes said long sleeved tops and pants in dark colors can also shield you from the harmful rays of the sun. 

“There are theories that dark colors can absorb the UV rays and won’t penetrate the material. However, it has to be “tightly woven.” If you can still see light through the fabric, then it’s not enough,” she suggested.

“Another option would be to stay under a shade. Use an umbrella if you need to walk around under the sun or walk in shaded areas. Stay away from UV light and tanning beds. Based on the American Cancer Society, you should: Slip on a shirt. Slop on sunscreen. Slap on a hat. Wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and skin around them,” she added. 

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