Sunscreen is important. Probably the most important player in your anti-aging routine. But you know that. Nevertheless, I'm going to reiterate it and hopefully help you out in finding the best sun protection for you. There are so many factors to consider and it goes way beyond choosing an SPF. So, let's hit the highlights and get you covered (see what I did there...). Below are the nuts and bolts/everything you need to know about sunscreen. Product recs at the end!
Why you should be wearing itFirst of all, sun protection should be a daily thing. Not just a summer fling. Even if you aren't planning on being outside, you still need sun protection because those lovely rays penetrate through windows. So you're exposed on your commute to work and at your desk by that window. Now is the time to incorporate this into your daily routine.
I'm sure that you've all heard since you were young that sunscreen is a must in protecting you from sunburns and scary things like skin cancers. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer and associated with sun accumulation over your lifespan. On the other hand, melanoma, which is the more serious variety of skin cancer, is associated with intense periods of sun exposure and sunburns. A study recently came out showing that having five or more blistering sunburns before the age of 20 may increase your risk of developing melanoma by up to 80%! That's scary. Of course, there are lots of other factors to account for as well, but there has been tons of evidence linking sunburns and melanoma.
A sunscreen's sun protection factor (SPF) is an indicator of the protection from UVB rays, or the rays that cause burning. But you also have to be concerned with UVA (rays that cause cell damage and aging) protection. A sunscreen with good UVA protection, measured by PPD, persistent pigment darkening, will help filter out harmful UVA rays. You will see this with the PA rating system.
Why you shouldn't rely on your makeup or moisturizer for coverageMany sunscreens added to makeup isn't very photostable (meaning it becomes useless when you're in the sun) and doesn't provide enough coverage. For adequate coverage on your face, you need at least 1/4 tsp of sunscreen. This is why it's recommended to use a sunscreen separate from your makeup, because many people don't use that much. Pat your sunscreen on for uniform coverage after moisturizer, before makeup. Sunscreen should also be reapplied every two hours when exposed to the sun. If you are going to be inside most of the day, putting it on once under makeup should be just fine.
How much to useI know you're probably not going to measure out your sunscreen daily (I know I sure don't), so a helpful way to eyeball it is if your sunscreen has a watery/milky/runny texture, use about the size of a nickel. If it's a lotion or cream and doesn't run, a dollop the size of a penny is about right.
For body, experts recommend an ounce and a half for good coverage, about the size of a shot glass. This is two fingers worth for each area (each arm, each leg, chest/torso, back). Reapply every two hours, as your body's oils, sweat and water break down protection.
What to look for in a good sunscreenSunscreens can be physical, chemical or both.
Physical sunscreens reflect the sun's rays and contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Physical sunscreens are effective immediately. These are best for people with sensitive or acne prone skin. Cosmetically, these can leave a white cast on skin and are thicker and a bit more difficult to apply. They also don't offer as much UVA protection as chemical sunscreens.
Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients to absorb the sun's rays. These need to be applied 20-30 minutes before sun exposure to have enough time to be absorbed into skin so they can work. These come in tons of formulas, with active ingredients including Octylcrylene, Avobenzone, Octinoxate, Octisalate. Oxybenzone and Homosalate. Cosmetically, these don't leave a white cast, but can also be more comedogenic.
Combined sunscreens contain chemical filters as well as physical filters. These provide broad spectrum protection from UVA and UVB rays.
However, just looking for a sunscreen with a "broad spectrum" rating isn't quite enough. You want to make sure it has a high SPF, 30-50 is recommended for best UVB coverage, and a PPD rating of at least 8 to 16 for good UVA coverage (which will be marketed as PA+++). European and Japanese sunscreens have higher PPDs than those in the US. You can find lots of these on Amazon or eBay.
SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays, SPF 50 blocks about 98%. Anything above that is only slightly more, but not enough to make a difference. This came as a shock to me, as I was adamant about using the highest SPF I could get my hands on. Even with good sunscreens, it's still important to rely on physical coverage, like hats, shirts, umbrellas, etc.
ProductsSo...that's a LOT of info. Want more? Much of this came from Skinacea, but there's still more info on their site. So now you know some of the science. Let's talk actual products. Here's another link from Skinacea that compares different available sunscreens and their attributes. Below are some that I've tried personally or have been highly recommended by other skincare-minded folks.
*note: not sure if US residents can get this from their website. It's also on Amazon
Now, go forth with your knowledge and stay safe from the sun! The tumbled leather look should be for bags, not skin.