With summer here and more people outside, it’s time to invest in good-quality sunscreen. Before you head to the shops, read our essential guide to what you need to know about sun-protection products.
SUNSCREEN 101: CHEMICAL VS PHYSICAL
Sunscreens can be physical, chemical or a hybrid of both. Physical sunscreens sit on the skin’s surface and reflect UV rays whereas chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays. According to experts, one does not outperform the other so it’s a personal choice, based on factors like lifestyle and skin type.
- The most common, with a melt-into-your-skin texture that’s often virtually invisible, so they’re great for daily use.
- They can irritate sensitive skin as they combine many ingredients to achieve broad-spectrum protection.
- They take 20 minutes to sink in and start working.
LABEL LOOKOUT: If it doesn’t say non-chemical or mineral, it’s likely to be a chemical sunscreen.
TRY (1) Dermalogica PowerBright TRx Pure Light SPF50, $124, a lightweight, broad-spectrum moisturizer that targets hyperpigmentation; or (2) Bondi Sands Fragrance-Free Sunscreen Face Lotion SPF50+, $19.99, that has a beautiful, easily wearable texture that comes in a body version, too.
- Contain natural zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to shield skin from UV rays.
- Start working immediately and don’t usually irritate the skin as they sit on the surface.
- Can feel thicker on the skin, block pores, and cause breakouts, so look for the ‘non-comedogenic variety.
- To make physical sunscreens feel better and avoid the ‘ghosting’ effect, some products use nano-sized particles of zinc oxide and titanium oxide. There have been some concerns in the past about how much of these particles are absorbed into the skin, but dermatologists insist the risk of not wearing any SPF at all, given New Zealand’s melanoma rates, is greater. If you want to avoid nanoparticles, skip sunscreens with descriptions like micro-mineral, ultra-fine or micronized.
LABEL LOOKOUT: Will be labelled sunblock, mineral, zinc or non-chemical.
TRY (3) Coola Mineral Sun Silk Crème SPF 30, $65, uses non-nano zinc oxide in a thin cream that blends well. (4) Medik8 Physical Sunscreen, $89.95, also uses non-nano zinc and titanium dioxide, and won’t cause heat in sensitive skin types.
- Hybrid sunscreens give maximum sun protection with the best of both physical and chemical technologies.
- They can help prevent skin irritation because the amount and type of chemicals used in hybrid sunscreens can be lowered.
LABEL LOOKOUT: Hybrids will often have zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in the ingredients list.
TRY (5) La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Tinted SPF 50+, $31.99. This combines chemical absorbers and physical barriers, and has a light tint. (6) Ultra Violette Clean Screen SPF 30 Weightless Gel Skinscreen, $47, is a light, fragrance-free gel-feel SPF that uses titanium dioxide and pentavin for deep hydration.
What it all means
IT’S BEST TO CHOOSE BROAD-SPECTRUM SUNSCREEN WITH SPF30+ OR HIGHER. Here we decipher the key sunscreen terms you need to know…
UV AND BROAD-SPECTRUM:
Sunlight has two types of harmful rays – long-wave ultraviolet (UVA) and short-wave ultraviolet (UVB). Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects you from both. Remember it like this: UVA rays Age us and UVB rays Burn us. UVA rays penetrate deeper, affecting the skin’s immune system and increasing skin cancer susceptibility; UVB rays burn the superficial skin layers, causing redness.
SUN PROTECTION FACTOR (SPF):
SPF refers to protection from the burning rays (UVB). “SPF is a measure of how long it takes for your skin to show the first signs of burning; SPF30 means it takes 30 times longer for your skin to burn than with no sunscreen at all. For example, if it takes your skin five minutes to burn without sunscreen, with SPF30 it will take five minutes times 30 or two-and-a half hours to burn.
When to use sunscreen
The UV index is a measure of the intensity of UV radiation. The larger the number, the more intense the UV. In New Zealand its maximum summer value is generally about 12, but it can exceed 13 in the Far North. The UV index is measured by NIWA, and NZ’s Sunsmart Health Protection Agency and the Cancer Society say you need sun protection when UV levels are three or above. To find the daily UV index, check your local weather information.
APPLY SUNSCREEN 20 minutes before heading into the sun and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
How much to apply
It’s important to apply enough sunscreen for proper protection. According to Sunsmart you should apply at least a teaspoon for each limb, front and back of the body, face, neck and ears. It’s also wise to wear protective clothing, a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and seek the shade when UV levels are three and above.
Skin cancer checks
Skin cancer can be more successfully treated if detected early. Ask your doctor about your skin cancer risk, and develop a habit of checking your skin for new spots and changes to existing freckles or moles. Ensure you check your entire body: skin cancers can occur on the soles of the feet or under nails. Use a mirror to check hard-to-see places.
LOOK FOR: New moles, freckles or spots. Spots that increase in size, change colour, become raised, rough and scaly or ulcerated. Spots that itch, tingle, bleed, weep or look different to your other spots.