Sunscreen 101: Here’s why you’re not using enough

Sunscreen 101: Here’s why you’re not using enough

The scoop on SPF

Text: Angelyn Kwek

How religious are you when it comes to your sun protection? Well, you’re going to want to be a lot more diligent after reading this

If the acronyms 'UVA', 'UVB' and all those pluses tacked on at the end of 'em are an alien language to you, you'd better brush up quick. Especially if pre-mature ageing isn't an achievement you're looking to unlock in the next five years. Basically, the TLDR version is that there are two types of harmful rays: Long wave ultraviolet A and short wave ultraviolet B. These are your UVA and UVB rays, respectively. The former is able to penetrate deep into the dermis, the skin's thickest layer, while the latter usually burns only the superficial layers of the skin. But, UVB rays play a key role in the development of skin cancer (there's just no winning here).


So it stands to reason the higher your SPF and its PA — that's sun protection factor, and PA refers to the protective grade, with more pluses denoting a broader spectrum of UV-shielding — the more you're protected, right? Wrong. Or at least, it's an error attributed to the user. What most people don't understand is that SPF is the ability to deflect the damaging rays, and the rating (be it 15, 30, or 50) is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to burn sunscreen-protected skin versus unprotected skin. In general, it takes anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes for a person's skin to start burning. So using an SPF15 PA+++ sunscreen would shield you from sun damage for 15 times longer, which means you can swan about outdoors for an extended period of up to two and a half hours. In fact, SPF50 is as high as you need to go, as it blocks out 98 per cent of UV rays, provided you slather it on 20 minutes before you head out and re-apply every two hours.

So why is it that we're still not getting sun protection right? Given that we live in a perpetual sunshine state, no less. Here are three things you might not have realised you're doing wrong when it comes to your SPF, why it's not enough, and what you can do to up your sun defense:

1. The SPF in your makeup is not enough
According to Dr Rachel Ho of La Clinic, "Forgoing sunblock in lieu of a makeup base that contains SPF is a big no-no. Makeup bases do not provide adequate coverage despite promising SPF protection. The damaging effects of the sun on the skin are well known — pigmentation, sunburn and wrinkles — so having adequate sun protection is very important to any good skincare routine."

UV remedy: Go for sunscreens that multi-task as primers, instead of picking up primers that have SPF in them. Supergoop's new 100% Mineral Matte Sunscreen is a great one that protects against UV damage, smooth the skin's appearance, minimises pores, and grips makeup at the same time.

Supergoop 100% Mineral Matte Sunscreen

2. There's now UV damage from blue light
Like SES and AFK, here's another short form to know: HEV, which stands for high energy visible light. It's the strong light emitted by our electronic devices, and it certainly doesn't help that we're so addicted to them. This exposure is known as digital pollution, and research has indicated that blue light can reach deeper into our skin than UVA and UVB. One study has even suggested blue light may be as harmful to skin as UVA and UVB light combined (the digital damage is real, y'all).

UV remedy: While anti-blue light sunscreen isn't as widespread yet, there are options on the market, such as Murad's City Skin Age Defense Sunscreen or Coola's Full Spectrum 360° Sun Silk Drops. You just need to keep an eye out for the fine print that states your bottle of SPF is primed with environmental and/or digital protection.


3. Re-application is key
You've likely heard this so often it has become white noise, but taking heed would really be in your best interest. And if you line the stats up, the numbers don't lie seeing as we did the math and 2.5 hours is the cutoff point before you lose your UV armour. So to be on the safe side (yes, this means even if you're wearing SPF200), re-applying every two hours is ideal, taking into account real life issues like sweating it off or accidental transfers. 

UV remedy: Sunscreen sprays can go a long way in helping re-application. The fine mist not only makes it a breeze for touching up, it helps to get those hard-to-reach areas like the hairline and the back of the ears. Alternatively, there are in-shower sunscreens to cover you from head to toe, though they're more suitable if you have midday gym sessions and you're hopping into the shower for a refresh after.