The damaging effects of the sun are real, which means we’re all a little more prudent about applying sunscreen these days. But while we may be aware of the importance of sun safety, it doesn’t necessarily answer all of our questions about sunblock and sunscreen. Here, we’ll demystify all of the questions you’ve always had, but were maybe too shy to ask.
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Sunscreen 101: what is SPF?
Sunscreen SPF, short for sun protection factor, is exactly what it sounds like. The number on that bottle determines how long sunscreen protects you from the sun’s ultraviolet B rays, the rays that cause sunburn and damage to the skin’s outer layers. An SPF number indicates how much longer after you’d typically burn in the sun you will be protected for. Say you typically burn after 10 minutes — a sun cream with an SPF of 30 should protect you for 30 times that. (So 30 x 10 = 300 minutes.)
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Is a higher SPF better?
Just because a bottle of sunscreen touts a higher number doesn’t mean that it actually offers that much more protection from actual UV rays. An SPF of 15 is said to block 93 per cent of UVB rays, while SPF 30 blocks 97 per cent. After that, the increments of protection don’t go up much (100 SPF blocks 99 per cent of total UV rays).
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How does sunblock work, exactly?
Most sunblock, including natural sunscreen and organic sunscreen, contain anywhere from one to six active ingredients that work together to protect you from the sun. Those active ingredients are broken into two categories: chemicals that absorb UV rays and chemicals that reflect UV rays. Absorbers contain carbon atoms that help convert UV radiation into low levels of heat, while reflectors, which are often comprised of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, also absorb rays and then scatter them.
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Are there other factors to consider?
SPF can tell you how well a sunblock fights UVB rays, but you should also be concerned about UVA rays, which don’t always cause a sunburn but can penetrate deeper into the skin tissue and cause wrinkles… not to mention an estimated 60-90 per cent of melanomas. The best sunscreen to protect yourself from those UVA rays is one that touts the term “broad spectrum.”
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Does your skin type really matter?
While your skin type can affect how quickly you burn, it’s important to note that all tanned skin is damaged skin. So while you may covet that darker hue, it’s your body’s way of dealing with the rays. That’s why everyone should use sunscreen, no matter your age or skin type.
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Why does sunblock appear gray on darker skin tones?
Sunblock is regulated as a drug and not as a cosmetic product, which means that before it can be sold, it needs to be proven to a regulatory board that they actually work. Companies that make sunscreen usually focus on ingredients that get results, ignoring how they may look on darker skin tones. They focus on "physical ingredients" — a category of ingredients that are less likely to cause an allergic reaction and don’t interact much with the skin, instead creating a barrier above it. Those ingredients cause that white cast on people of colour that doesn’t fully absorb into the skin. Only recently has there been a shift among new and older brands to create sunscreens that blend into all skin tones.
See also: The best beauty brands NOT sold at Sephora.
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Is expensive sunblock better?
Not always. Consumer Reports recently studied a variety of mass-marketed sunscreen brands, and found that Walmart’s Equate brand topped the list of best lotion sunscreens – despite it being on the lower end of the pricing scale.
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Why do some people break out?
How your skin reacts to different types of sunscreen varies from person to person and totally depends on skin type. However, since mineral sunscreen sits on top of the skin it can cause clogged pores, while chemical sunscreens has been shown to irritate the skin and create a rash on some people.
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How often do you really need to reapply?
The best way to use sunblock is to apply an ounce at a time, 20-30 minutes before you head outside and then to reapply every two hours or immediately after you’ve been in the water – even if you’re using waterproof sunscreen.
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How do you re-apply if you’re wearing makeup?
If sunblock needs to be applied every two hours, the next question is obvious. What if you’re wearing makeup? Luckily, there are makeup products on the market that have built-in sunscreen, making it possible to re-apply while touching up your makeup. A setting spray like Kate Somerville’s UncompliKated SPF 50 Soft Focus Makeup Setting Spray will give you broad spectrum coverage while keeping your makeup in place. Loose or compact powders with SPF are other options.
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Is spray or lotion better?
That spray bottle is oh-so-convenient, especially for those hard-to-reach areas or on children. Unfortunately though, according to Harvard Health Publishing, there are some risks involved with a spray. When you use a spray you’re more likely to inhale some of the sunscreen itself, which could potentially trigger health issues like asthma. Plus, with sprays it can be hard to tell if you’re actually using enough product. If all you have is a spray bottle though or you can’t give yours up, target each area for at least six seconds before moving on.
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What’s the difference between regular sunscreen and sunblock for kids?
The ingredients in kids sunscreen, baby sunscreen and adult sunscreen are usually very similar. The biggest difference is the fragrances that are used in the actual base. Whatever sunscreen you choose, the best sunscreen for most kids and adults alike is one with a broad spectrum of at least 30 SPF.
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Difference facial sunscreen?
Facial skin tends to be a bit more sensitive than the other skin on your body, which is why so many companies market sunscreen for sensitive skin. If you’re solely concerned about UV protection then there’s no real difference, but the best sunscreen for face has usually been tested to cause less irritation and acne.
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How can you avoid breakouts?
Opt for a product that says non-comedogenic, which means it won’t clog your pores. And, if your skin is prone to rosacea, skip the water-resistant formulas that can have a heavier composition, and opt for a lightweight, mineral product instead.