The Sunscreen Guide Recommended By Dermatologists

Cream or gel? Should you look for high SPF? Experts share their take plus top picks from the wide world of sunscreen to choose from.

Dhara Vora Sabhnani

When it comes to skincare, sunscreen should be your best friend. Layering your skin with a lot of actives might be intimidating, but one step that you should not omit is sunscreen. Sunscreens are used to protect the skin from the harmful effects of the sun. Sunscreen and sunblock are designed to protect your skin against UVA and UVB rays from the sun, preventing them from reaching the deeper layers of the skin, or by reflecting the radiation. Sunscreen absorbs the UV rays, while a sunblock reflects and scatters them. Exposure to UV rays causes premature ageing, sunburn and tanning, pigmentation (which is a common concern among Indian women) and skin cancer, all of which you can navigate, thanks to SPF (sun protection factor). Experts answer five key queries.

Do you need sunscreen throughout the day?

Designed for different skin types (dry, oily, sensitive, acne-prone) and usage (extreme outdoors or indoors, reapplication) sunscreens come in the form of creams, lotions, gels, gel-creams, foams, mousse, powder and sprays (which are great for reapplication, especially when you are travelling). 
“The most recent development in sunscreens are oral sunscreen tablets which contain ingredients like fern extracts and other antioxidants. It is ideal to have sunscreen on during the entire time that you are in daylight. In fact, advanced sunscreen formulations available today can filter even artificial light and blue light from screen devices. These radiations are known to trigger skin pigmentation as well as premature ageing of the skin,” says Dr Niketa Sonavane, celebrity dermatologist and founder of Ambrosia Aesthetics, Mumbai. 

How often should you reapply sunscreen?

When outside, you should reapply your sunscreen every two to four hours, but you don’t need to reapply that often when indoors. “We spend a significant amount of time on our phones and laptops, so it is ideal to use sunscreen indoors. UV rays can easily pass through glass windows. I recommend using sunscreen at least twice a day when you are indoors,” says dermatologist Dr Ameesha Mahajan, founder, RM Aesthetics.

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What is SPF?

SPF is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect the skin from UVB (burning) rays. “Sunscreen with SPF 15 filters about 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays and SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays. What is more important is that you use sunscreen daily all 365 days of the year. You need about a full teaspoon for your face and neck and two tablespoons full for your body. Reapply it every three to five hours,” says Dr Sonavane. 
Dr Mahajan explains that if your skin would normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, then by applying an SPF 15 sunscreen, it would allow you to stay in the sun without burning for approximately 150 minutes (a factor of 15 times longer). However, this is a rough estimate and depends on skin type, the intensity of sunlight, how much you sweat, and the amount of sunscreen used. “Because of under application of sunscreen in quantity, most dermatologists suggest a minimum of SPF 30 which should ideally be re-applied every two to four hours,” says Dr Mahajan. In addition to SPF, you also need a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect you from UVA rays too. The PA system which has ratings ranging from + to ++++ is an indicator of the sunscreen’s protection against UVA (ageing) rays.

Physical vs chemical sunscreens

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Among the commonly available sunscreens, there are two main types—chemical and physical sunscreen. Chemical sunscreen gets absorbed into the skin and then absorbs UV rays, converts the rays into heat, and releases them from the body. 

A physical sunblock reflects the sun’s rays. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the main active ingredients in physical sunscreens (aka mineral sunscreen). Those with sensitive skin should opt for physical sunscreen because, in the process of absorbing the rays, chemical sunscreens undergo chemical degradation which can irritate sensitive skin. But most physical blockers leave a white cast and do not blend easily with the skin. Those with acne-prone skin should choose a non-comedogenic sunscreen that won’t clog your pores.

Is your sunscreen killing the reefs?

Dr Mahajan lists benzophenones, camphor derivatives (such as 4-methyl benzylidene camphor or 3-benzylidene camphor) and cinnamate derivatives (such as octyl methoxycinnamate, isopentyl-4-methoxycinnamate; octocrylene) as problematic ingredients in sunscreens. While more studies are needed to find out the full- and long-term effects of these on the human body, lab studies have demonstrated hormonal imbalances on test animals in certain studies. “There are two sunscreen ingredients that are FDA approved but classified as a health hazard and environmental hazard— oxybenzone and avobenzone. These ingredients can absorb into our blood circulation, increase the risk of contact allergy as well as increase the risk of certain types of skin cancer,” says Dr Sonavane. Sunscreen ends up in the ocean after you swim or take a shower. Combined with the effects of global warming, ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate and avobenzone have been associated with bleaching and destruction of coral reefs. Certain studies also suggest that nano-zinc oxide and nano-titanium oxide negatively affect the life cycle and reproduction of fish and other marine life. So look for sunscreens that offer relatively less harmful ingredients and are often labelled as reef-safe sunscreens.

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Top 11 sunscreen picks

  1. Cetaphil Sun SPF 50+ Very High Protection Light Gel
  2. Neutrogena UltraSheer Dry Touch Sunblock SPF 50+
  3. Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence Sunscreen Spf 50+ Pa++++
  4. Lakme Sun Expert Ultra Matte SPF 40 Pa+++ Compact
  5. L'Oreal Paris UV Perfect Matte and Fresh Long UVA SPF 50+/PA++++
  6. Forest Essentials SUN FLUID Tender Coconut Water with Turmeric & Basil Leaf SPF 50|PA + +
  7. Bioderma Photoderm Max Aquafluide SPF 50+ Teinte Claire
  8. Innisfree Daily Mild Sunscreen SPF50+ PA++++
  9. LANEIGE Watery Sun Cream SPF50+ PA++++
  10. Natio Tinted Moisturiser SPF 50+
  11. The Face Shop Naturalsun Eco Super Active Sun Cream
Photo: Shutterstock
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