Ok, so I will commit a marketing suicide and tell you straight away that this is not a summary of my favourite products or my recommendations, so if you are looking for a list you can stop reading now. But, to try to keep you here a little bit longer, I will point out some things that hopefully show you how to pick the best sunscreen for you.
By now, we all know the importance of wearing sunscreen, right? And this does not only apply to the permanently sunny countries or just when going on holidays; one of the highest rates of skin-related cancers are recorded in countries like Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands.
Let’s start with some basics. SPF, the Sunscreen Performance Factor is a measurement of how long it takes for UVB rays to hit and damage your skin. For example, SPF 30 means that if you wear the sunscreen, it will take 30 times longer to burn than without it. It doesn’t mean it gives you 30 min protection. This, unfortunately, depends on many variables like your skin type or the irradiation. However, the biggest variable in the sunscreen’s performance is the amount of sunscreen applied and the quality of that application. How much of the product was used, how often have you reapplied, and have you applied it evenly and in all the nooks and crannies of your fab body…? Due to its properties we cannot see the sunscreen once absorbed, so this can be difficult to judge. It is generally regarded that you should apply 2 mg of sunscreen per square centimetre of the skin. In practice though, it's difficult to work out what that means. To make things clearer, this is equivalent to one shot glass for the body or two tablespoons, and two finger lengths, or half a teaspoon, to the face and neck. And let’s not forget that this should be reapplied at least every 2 hours.
Ok, we now know how and why, what’s next? Ah, which! There is no one answer. Helpful, I know. The good place to start is to decide if you want to go for a traditional sunscreen, often called chemical, or a mineral one. The main difference is in the way they protect your skin. Chemical sunscreens use chemical filters to protect skin. They work like a sponge, absorbing the UV rays and converting them into heat. Mineral sunscreen (also known as physical sunscreen) blocks radiation by sitting on the skin and forming a barrier that reflects rays with ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Don’t be fooled by the name though. A lot of people tend to choose the mineral sunscreen based purely on the fact that it is not “chemical”. Mineral sunscreens have become very popular in recent years. They are better positioned as “natural” due to simpler formulas and less controversial ingredients, but they still use chemical compounds like metal-oxides. They are less irritating and penetrating, and more SPF efficient than chemical sunscreens. On the other hand, they are less waterproof, a lot harder to formulate and apply. They can be thick, greasy and leave a white film on, which is not desirable especially for darker skins. Chemical sunscreens on the other hand are quick and easy to apply, and unlike mineral sunscreens, they don’t leave a white film on the skin. But, not all chemical sunscreens offer broad-spectrum protection meaning they only protect against UVB rays and not UVA, which can be confusing. On top of that there is the environmental concern over sunscreens containing ingredients affecting the marine life, in particular coral reefs (watch out for products containing oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene). Much of the research to date is limited and focuses on individual chemicals rather than a finished product and more studies are required on the environmental effect of sunscreen on coral reefs across the globe. But it’s not all roses with the mineral sunscreen either; some studies suggest that zinc oxide can also cause coral bleaching, plus, the process of mining zinc has links to other environmental issues such as pollution.
There is a lot to consider here, I know, but the most important thing to stress is that any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen!
If you, like me, have a problematic skin that’s prone to breakouts, you might be put off by the daily use. Sunscreen formulas are harder to wash off then your normal skincare products and are often waterproof. This can lead to clogging up the pores and fresh inflammations. That’s why it is super important to do a two-step cleansing routine; ideally, the first step involves an oil-based product and the second a gentle gel or foam. Don’t be afraid to use your skincare routine under the sunscreen too. There are a lot of misconceptions about certain products, for example, it is perfectly ok to use a Vitamin C serum in the summer. When applied under the sunscreen it adds an antioxidative protection against the irradiation.
My tip: choose a sunscreen that has a pleasant feeling to you and your skin. I underline to you, because, unsurprisingly, people like different things; to one person a rich formula that absorbs slowly will be preferred, but to another having a non-greasy and fast drying finish will be important. So choose a product that feels nice and offers a uniform coverage (even if you can’t often see it). Those elements create a product that performs well in real life and it will hopefully encourage you to use it more frequently. At the end of the day, what is the point in having a trendy sunscreen recommended by an influencer if you don’t like using it, right?