All sunscreens do the same thing, right? Not quite. There are a variety of sunscreens on the market that are of more benefit to different skin types. Read on to find out what kind of sunscreen works best for your skin.
Why is sunscreen protection important?
Just a few minutes in the sun exposes you to ultraviolet radiation (UVR), which can damage and burn your skin. It is better to decrease your exposure to the dangers by using sunscreen to minimize the risk of developing skin cancer.
The Queensland Government encourages the use of an SPF 30+, broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen that is labelled ‘AUST L’ or ‘AS/NZS 2604:1998’, which meets the Australian Standard. It is important to check the ‘use by’ date as it may not be effective after its expiry date. Along with using sunscreen on uncovered areas of the skin, there are 4 other important measures including seeking shade when outdoors, slipping on protective clothing and a hat and sliding on sunglasses.
What is in sunscreen?
There are 2 types of sunscreens:
- Chemical absorbers which absorb most of the UV
- Physical blockers that reflect or scatter most of the UV away from your skin
Some sunscreens use both chemical and physical blocking ingredients.
It is important to use broad spectrum SPF 30+ as it filters ultraviolet radiation (UVR) and protects from reflected UVR from surfaces including sand, water and concrete. It should also be reapplied every 2 hours as it otherwise will wear off. No sunscreen offers complete UVR protection.
Are there dangerous chemicals in sunscreen?
Evidence supports that using sunscreen minimizes short-term and long-term damage of the skin from the sun. Prevention of sunburn and skin cancer outweighs any unproven claims of toxicity or human health hazards from ingredients found in sunscreens.
What types of sunscreen are there?
- Toddler (suitable for sensitive skin and usually fragrance free)
- Milky lotions (usually contain moisturisers)
- Clear lotions and gels (usually alcohol based, less sticky and more drying)
- Cream (thicker and usually more expensive than lotions)
- Sprays (thin coverage, but can be useful for reaching difficult areas)
- Zinc (reflects UVR, but can leave a residue on the skin)
What sunscreen is best for your skin type?
Sensitive skin and children’s skin
Those with sensitive skin, as well as children, can be irritated by the chemicals found in some sunscreens. Some may have reactions to the fragrances, preservatives, chemical absorbers or another component of the sunscreen.
When using a sunscreen for the first time, it is recommended to test it on a small area before applying. People who have experienced skin reactions to sunscreen can try a different brand. Look for products that are labelled fragrance free, chemical free, mineral based, hypoallergenic, PABA free and suitable for sensitive skin. Sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide may be more suited for those with sensitive skin as they sit on the skin without being absorbed. Instead of chemical absorbers you may like to try mineral blockers as an alternative.
The Cancer Council recommends avoiding putting infants in direct sunlight when UV levels are 3 or above. If this is not possible, babies should be kept in the shade and wearing a hat and protective clothing which covers as much skin as possible, leaving only very small areas of skin needing sunscreen application. The Australasian College of Dermatologists does not recommend extensive use of sunscreens in babies less than 6 months of age, as they have more sensitive skin and absorb more of any chemical when applied to the skin compared to adults.
As young children are more reluctant to put on sunscreen, spray sunscreen or colourful packaging can make it more enjoyable for children to use. It is important to note that sprays provide a thin coverage and should also be applied with the other key sun protection measures. Stick kind sunscreen is also another choice for children since the formulation is wax based and does not drip into eyes.
Allergy, acne and rosacea-prone skin
For those with allergy-prone skin including acne or rosacea should avoid products with preservatives or fragrances, as well as those containing PABA or oxybenzone. You may find gel formulas containing alcohol more drying and less likely to aggravate acne. You may like to look for light, oil free sunscreen that are non-comedogenic (do not clog pores) and chemical sunscreens with avobenzone and oxybenzone.
Avoid greasy sunscreens labelled as “creams” as they may increase breakouts. The UVB filter ensulizole has a lighter, less oily consistency than most other chemical sunscreens. However, if you are taking acne medication, which tends to dry skin, you may find gels irritating on the skin and may prefer a light lotion or cream base. Some medications increase sun sensitivity and reduce the body’s ability to defend against sunburns therefore sunscreen is more important for increased daily sun protection.
If you have had skin reactions to sunscreen, you may might to try different brands that are labelled as suitable for sensitive skin and are fragrance free. Sunscreen ingredients, however, are similar across all brands and sensitivities to particular sunscreen are difficult to eliminate by simply changing the brand. A dermatologist is best suited to analyse any reactions and provide ingredients to avoid for your skin. Physical blockers, including titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, have not been reported to cause contact allergy. Some people may prefer not to use products with these ingredients as they tend to be heavier creams that do not absorb into the skin as well as other sunscreens.
Very fair skin, people with melasma, or a history of skin cancer
Sunscreen with SPF 30+ broad spectrum sunscreen is recommended daily on uncovered areas of the skin, such as face and back of the hands. As most people do not apply enough sunscreen to achieve the SPF listing on the sunscreen, regular re-application is important.
Dry skin type
Those with dry skin may prefer the use of moisturising sunscreens. Moisturising sunscreens are often formulated as creams, lotions, or ointments, which are normally noted on the labels. Lotions that have a moisturising effect tend to have deeper coverage. You may like to try creams or lotions with extra hydrating ingredients like glycerin and aloe. Avoid sprays and gels with alcohol, which tend to dry out the skin.
Oily skin type
For those with oily skin type mineral oil free sunscreen, non-comedogenic sunscreens are an option for you. Water or gel based sunscreens are usually oil free. You may also like to try sprays as they tend to be more light weight, feel less greasy and dry quickly. A tip is to use different sunscreens for body and face and ensure to wash your face thoroughly to remove all sunscreen at the end of the day.
Darker skin tones
Skin cancer can affect people with all skin types. For dark skin tones, sunscreen with SPF 8-14 is recommended when outdoors for about 1 hour and increasing to a sunscreen with SPF 30+ when outside for 5 hours. Did you know that famous Jamaican musician Bob Marley died from an untreated melanoma that spread to his brain? Skin cancer is less common in people with darker skin, but it is often found at a more progressive stage.
Aged skin type
Skin cancer can affect people at any age. Sunscreen can still be of benefit to those who have received large amounts of sun exposure in their lifetime. Unprotected skin can increase the risk of developing melanoma, and can accelerate skin aging, which leads to age spots and wrinkles .Spray sunscreen can be an option to apply sunscreen to areas that are more difficult to reach in particular for those with decreased mobility. Sprays should be applied evenly to maximise coverage.
Is sunscreen enough?
Skin cancer is a serious issue but reducing your risk is possible. Sunscreen should be used in combination with seeking shade, wearing sun protective clothing, sunglasses and a hat.