Why you need sunscreen in your life
Whenever someone asks me for my best anti-ageing tip, my question is always: Do you wear sunscreen?
UV rays are, without exaggeration, your skin’s Number 1 enemy. They are Joker, Voldemort, and Gustavo Fring all rolled into one. They give you wrinkles, ugly brown patches, and cause skin cancer. And sunscreen is the only protection we have against UV rays.
When I was younger, I had the most cavalier attitude towards sunscreen. My mum used to tell me: Wear your sunscreen, because lasering off your pigmentation later in life is painful and expensive.
But I didn’t care. Sunscreen was gross — it was sticky, left an unnatural and ghostly white cast on my face, and worst of all, it made me break out. Who needs sunscreen, I thought. I was young, and I thought my skin was immortal.
Then, somewhere in my early 20s I noticed my face was getting really irritated all the time. It was red, splotchy, and worst of all, I started getting patches of pigmentation on my cheeks that weren’t going away. I realised that a combination of heat and no protection on my skin from the elements was making my skin go mad.
So I started wearing sunscreen. At first, nothing happened. I wore sunscreen for 6 months to a year before I realised that I wasn’t getting red and irritated any more. My freckles and patches of pigmentation were disappearing in droves (thanks to Vitamin C too of course), and nothing new was sprouting up on my face.
I became a sunscreen believer. In fact, I believe so ardently in sunscreen that I’ve done a whole lot of research on it to convince my friends to start wearing it. Now I’m gonna share some of those FAQs about sun damage and sunscreen with you guys!
Question 1: OK. So what is sunscreen?
Sunscreen is that stuff that you spray/ slather on your skin to seek protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays. It used to be known as ‘sunblock’, but the FDA has banned this term in product marketing as of 2003, because — and you should know this right now — there is no such thing as 100% ‘blocking’ your skin from the sun. There is only a barrier of protection that sunscreen can offer you to reduce the extremely harmful effects of UV rays and sun damage for you skin.
Question 2: What is UV, and why is it so damaging?
There are 2 kinds of ultraviolet (UV) rays, and they are both not bad news for your skin. If you haven’t seen actual photo proof of sun damage, I think this will convince you.
UVA rays penetrate deep into your skin, causing premature ageing and the damage of your skin’s immune system. This translates to sagging skin, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and hyper sensitivity.
UVB rays cause damage to the surface of your skin (freckles, hyperpigmentation), and play a significant role in the development of skin cancer.
Basically, there’s no such thing as a ‘healthy’ tan — all tan is a sign of sun damage.
Question 3: OK I’m sold. How does sunscreen protect me from UVA and UVB rays?
There are 2 things to look out for on your sunscreen bottle.
- PA protection: PA is a grade founded in Japan to gauge the amount of protection from UVA rays. This appears as PA, with ++++ marks behind it on your sunscreen bottle. PA protection ranges from PA+ to PA++++. Of course, the more +s, the better. .
- SPF protection: Short for “Sun Protection Factor”, SPF refers to the amount of protection you get from UVB rays. Stating any SPF above 50 is now no longer allowed, so sunscreen with an SPF of more than 50 is denoted by “50+”.
When you have a winning combination of PA and SPF protection, you’ve gotten yourself an effective broad spectrum sunscreen that offers high protection against UV rays.
Question 4: I’ve heard there are physical and mineral sunscreens. What are the differences between them?
Physical sunscreens sit on top of the skin to reflect UV rays away from your skin. They’re also known as ‘physical blockers’. Physical sunscreens are generally better for sensitive skin, because they’re made of active mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that are less potentially irritating for your skin, and its ability to deflect heat will help with skin prone to rosacea and redness.
Physical sunscreen is convenient too, because it’s effective immediately upon application. However, physical sunscreens tend to leave a ‘white cast’ on your skin, can rub off easily from water and sweat, and can offer less protection when not applied properly (if you don’t spread your product out evenly and completely, the UV rays can still get between the sunscreen molecules).
Chemical sunscreen contain organic (carbon-based) compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone. These compounds change UV rays into heat, then release that heat from the skin. They are often referred to as chemical or organic absorbers.
Chemical sunscreens are thinner and spread easily on the skin, making them easy to use. Less is needed to protect the skin too, because there is no chance of the UV rays getting between the sunscreen molecules.
However, chemical sunscreen require 20 mins of waiting for the chemicals to start working. Also, the fact that it absorbs heat might result in higher irritation in the sun. In extreme cases, this heat can actually cause spots on your face to become more pronounced.
Question 5: My BB cushion says “SPF 50”. Does this mean I don’t need to use any other sunscreen?
Sorry, but no. The SPF rating that products get are a result of testing with a shot glass amount of sunscreen for your face, neck, and body. That’s almost an entire tablespoonful for your face and neck alone.
So, while it’s cute that BB cushions offer SPF 50, your cushion alone will not offer you much protection from the sun at all. In fact, BB cushions were invented in Korea as a way for women there to ‘top up’ their sunscreen throughout the day for added protection. They always wear a layer of sunscreen below their makeup in the first place.
Question 6: Sunscreen protects me from the sun. Does this mean I don’t need to wear it on a cloudy day?
Nope! Clouds do not offer protection against the sun’s UV rays. In fact, UV rays end up bouncing off certain types of clouds, resulting in even higher levels of UV rays on your skin.
So just wear your sunscreen all day, everyday.
Question 7: OK. I’m wearing sunscreen. Does this mean I can just slap on an SPF 50 in the morning and be done with it?
No again. A rough indication of how long your SPF is effective for is to look at the number as minutes. If your skin is very sensitive (means it starts burning up like a roast chicken the second it’s exposed to the sun), then your SPF 50 only gives you 50 mins of protection from the sun.
If you’re less sensitive, a very rough formula would be to add your SPF number to the amount of time you can spend in the sun without burning up. For eg, if it’s 30 mins, then your SPF 50 will give you 80 mins of sun protection.
Don’t forget that labels like ‘water resistant’ and ‘water proof’ on sunscreen bottles are usually bogus too. So, I like to carry around a spray-on sunscreen (such as this one) to ‘top up’ my sun protection throughout the day (eg, before going out to lunch on a work day). People might look at you funny, but you’ll be the one laughing in 5 years, I promise.
Question 8: At which point during my morning routine/ makeup routine do I wear sunscreen?
Typically, sunscreen goes right after moisturiser (or whatever your last skincare step is), and before primer.
Some sunscreens, such as my beloved Canmake Mermaid Skin Gel UV, make for excellent primers, so I tend to skip my primer when I’m using such products.
If you’re using the J. One Jelly Pack, which acts as a moisturiser and primer in 1, then use your sunscreen after it.
Question 9: Sunscreens are icky, oily, and clog my pores. Do I really have to wear it?
I’d like to bust this myth right out of the water. Yes, there used to be some sunscreens out there on the market that were the stuff of nightmares. They resembled white tar more than they did sunscreens.
However, there are many sunscreens out there now that are beautifully formulated, absorb quickly into your skin, and don’t leave a heavy film on your face.
Generally, Korean or Japanese sunscreens are the ones I reach out for most. This is because I find their formulas most elegant, and they have the very crucial added plus of having come from an industry that is very strictly regulated and tested. I trust Asian sunscreens the most.
Question 10: So many considerations? Now I’m worried I’m doing it all wrong.
I know. Once you start caring about sun exposure, it’s a long and fast drop down the rabbit hole. However, just remember that anything you’re doing is better than not doing anything at all! Just find a sunscreen that works for your skin, and find solace in the fact that you’re taking steps to protect your skin against its number UV damage, your skin’s number 1 enemy.
Question 11: What are some sunscreens I can use?
Sunscreen is a very personal thing. I’ve listed some of my favourite Asian and Western sunscreens below. However, if you have a sunscreen that you already adore — and it’s a sunscreen with high UVA and UVB protection — then hold on to this sunscreen, and ride it into the glowing sunset.
- Canmake Mermaid Skin Gel UV, SPF 50+, PA ++++: My HG sunscreen. Alcohol-free, and perfect for my sensitive skin.
- Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence, SPF 50+, PA++++: Arguably the most famous and popular sunscreen to come out of Japan. Absorbs really fast, no problems at all.
- DRGL Sun Protection Mist, SPF 29, PA++: While this doesn’t have the highest protection, it’s the best sunscreen mist I’ve used (and I’ve really tried many). Perfect for top ups during the day.
- Avene Tres Haute Protection Creme Teintee (tinted cream), SPF 50+: Paraben-free. Perfect for days I’m too lazy to put on makeup, so this serves as both my sunscreen and foundation.
- Clarins UV Plus Anti-Protection Day Screen in “Rosy Glow”, SPF 50, PA++++: Oil-free. Love this as it is a great makeup primer too.
My next post will be a review of all my favourite sunscreen products, so stay tuned [Edit: here it is]!
Until then, keep glowing and stay protected,