The Ultimate Sun care Guide: From SPF Ratings To Treating Sunburn

By Vinda L.
June 24, 2021

If there’s one thing the beauty community can agree on, it’s the importance of wearing sunscreen.

Sunscreens are just no longer reserved for beaches and poolsides. They are a staple in your daily routine. No matter the weather or season.

But what is it that sunscreens do and why are they so essential?

Let's start by looking at what sunscreen is protecting us against - UVA and UVB rays.

What is UVA and UVB?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is part of the natural energy that is produced by the sun. It can also be created artificially for tanning beds.

Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays have the longest wavelength. It penetrates deeper into the skin, affecting the dermis. Long-term exposure to UVA has been linked to premature aging, wrinkles and skin cancer.

UVA rays can go through windows and cloud cover. That’s why you can tan even by sitting next to a window on a sunny day.

Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays have a shorter wavelength. It penetrates the outermost layers of the skin. That nasty sunburn is caused by UVB rays. Its effects are delayed and appear a few hours after sun exposure.

UVB rays are more likely to be filtered by cloud cover and it can’t penetrate windows.

What is SPF and what does it really mean?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It measures the sunscreen’s ability to protect your skin from UVB rays; the rays that cause reddening or sun burns.

The number (e.g. SPF 30) measures how long it will take for the UVB rays to redden your skin, compared to without any sunscreen.

Say it normally takes 10 minutes until your skin starts to burn. By using an SPF 30 sunscreen, your skin is now theoretically protected for 300 minutes, or 5 hours. 

Does a high SPF protect my skin better?

It’s easy to assume that SPF 30 provides twice the protection compared to SPF 15. But that’s not how it works. And the difference between the SPF ratings are marginal.

  • SPF 15 blocks about 94% of UVB rays;
  • SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays; and
  • SPF 50 blocks about 98% of rays

A high SPF number can create a false sense of security. You may not use as much or stay in the sun longer than recommended, thinking that the higher SPF will keep you protected.

What’s more important than SPF ratings is applying the sunscreen correctly.

Experts recommend using a minimum of SPF 30 for daily use. Apply ⅓ to ½ teaspoon of sunscreen on your face and neck at least 30 minutes before going out.

Other sunscreen lingo you should know

You may have seen this indicator PA++++ on Japanese or Korean-brand sunscreens next to the SPF label.

PA stands for Protection Grade of UVA. It’s a rating system developed in Japan to measure UVA protection. The more plus signs you see, the higher the protection.

Broad spectrum is a term used to indicate that the sunscreen offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

Which is better - chemical or mineral sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreens tend to be easier to apply than mineral sunscreens. The texture is lighter so they are more wearable for daily use.

Mineral sunscreens are heavier and can feel filmy. Some formulations leave a whitish cast, making them unsuitable for darker skin tones. And they can come off easily by sweating or rubbing, making reapplying necessary.

Despite this, mineral sunscreens have been gaining popularity in recent years. 

More people are becoming aware of what goes on their skin. They’re concerned about what ingredients in chemical sunscreens are absorbed by the body. And understandably so.

But just because the ingredients from chemical sunscreens are absorbed, does it make it toxic or hazardous?

In January 2020, the FDA released a brief about a clinical trial that looked at the absorption of sunscreens. The brief reports that "there is evidence that some sunscreen active ingredients may be absorbed. However, the fact that an ingredient is absorbed through the skin and into the body does not mean that the ingredient is unsafe, nor does the FDA seeking further information indicate such."

A separate case for mineral sunscreens is environmental.

In 2018, Hawaii became the first state in the US to ban sunscreens with the two common chemical sunscreen filters - oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen is estimated to wash into coral reefs around the globe each year. Accumulation of these ingredients have the potential to damage delicate coral reef systems.

So which is the better choice?

The one that you’re happy to use daily; be it chemical or mineral. Either will provide protection from the sun’s damaging UV rays and prevent premature wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and skin cancer.

There are so many types of sunscreen in the market to cater to different needs and concerns. Try not to overthink it. Go with one that actually makes you comfortable to wear sunscreen.

How to treat sunburn quickly?

You’ve applied sunscreen religiously. But the lure of fun in the sun made you forget to reapply. Or that nap you took by the pool was just so relaxing.

Now that healthy tan is replaced by a hot, stinging sunburn. Ouch. Here are 5 tips you can take to relieve that sunburn.

  • Stay cool. Keep your skin cool by taking a cold shower or applying a cold towel to the area. 
  • Apply after-sun products like aloe vera gel or a hydrating mist. Place it in the fridge to keep it cool. Avoid using heavy occlusives like petroleum jelly or butter that can trap heat.
  • Rehydrate from within by drinking plenty of water. Your body has lost a lot of moisture so help it replenish by hydrating from the inside out.
  • Don’t break the blisters. That may slow down healing and increase risk of infection. See a doctor if the burn is severe.
  • Prevent, prevent, prevent. The best treatment is prevention. Use adequate physical protection like a wide-brimmed hat, wear SPF-protective clothing, avoid going out when the sun is at its peak (between 10am to 2pm) and of course, sunscreen.

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