Do you wear sunscreen every day? Even when indoors? Well, if the answer is no, then you should start. The skin around your face is very delicate and sensitive compared to the rest of the body. It is often exposed to sun rays, dust and pollution when travelling. Even when at home, UV rays penetrate through glass windows and even during cloudy days. Applying sunscreen is a crucial part of the basic skincare routine. It helps prevent skin cancer, slows down ageing, evens complexion and provides overall healthy skin. 

To understand more about the importance of SPF and the daily use of sunscreen, TC46 connected with Dr Smriti Naswa Singh, Consultant Dermatologist & Cosmetic Dermatologist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund. Here she shares 8 important points to remember related to sun protection. 

1. Higher SPF doesn’t mean double protection

SPF is a Sun Protection Factor that tells about what percentage of UVB rays are prevented from entering the skin by sunscreen. SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB sun rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% UVB rays, SPF 50 block 98%, and SPF 100 blocks 99% UVB rays. So higher sunscreen SPF doesn’t mean doubling the protection.

2. Sunblock and sunscreen are different

A sunblock reflects the sun rays from the skin – so basically, it is a physical sunscreen. Sunscreen on the other hand filter outs the UV rays of the skin. So, in general, sunscreen is a chemical sunscreen.

 3. Chemical-based and mineral-based sunscreen are the two types of sunscreen

A chemical-based sunscreen filters or screens out the UV rays (both A and B depending upon whether it’s narrow-spectrum or broad-spectrum). A mineral-based sunscreen (usually using Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide) is a physical sunscreen that reflects the sun rays away from the skin.

4. Natural sunscreens work better than organic sunscreens

Natural sunscreens are physical sunscreen that has either Zinc Oxide alone or Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide as their ingredients. They act as a shield on the skin and reflect away the harmful UV rays. Zinc Oxide is broad-spectrum acting against UVA and UVB, while titanium dioxide works more against UVB only.

Organic sunscreens can have two meanings. The scientific meaning of organic is a compound with a carbon atom in it. The ingredients in chemical sunscreen usually have carbon in them while both Zinc and Titanium Oxide are inorganic compounds. So there is a discrepancy in reality and common thought process. In layman’s terms, organic sunscreen will have some natural product like some leaf/ oil which will be grown organically in farms but that product won’t be the main ingredient giving UV protection, and most likely that sunscreen will also have other synthetic ingredients in it. It is found that only 26% of the natural sunscreens had the SPF protection that they claimed. 

For DIY enthusiasts, natural ingredients/sunscreens made at home may not give the desired SPF protection nor protection against UVA. For example, Coconut oil and red Raspberry seed oil have natural UV blocking properties, but their SPF ranges from 1-7 maximum.

5. Apply a minimum of SPF 30 for Indian skin 

Usually, SPF 15 is fine for Indian skin, if the method of application is followed. Around 1 teaspoon of sunscreen for face to be applied with a uniform layer all around the sun-exposed areas and to be repeated every 3 hours. Sunscreen has to be applied 30 minutes before going in the sun. And in case there is heavy sweating or a person goes swimming or gets drenched in the rain, the sunscreen should be repeated every 40-80 minute.

If a person cannot ensure this method of application and uses a lesser amount, then SPF 30 is a safer choice and if a person is photosensitive or is under some dermatology/ aesthetic treatment, SPF 50 is preferred.

6. Look for a broad spectrum SPF moisturizer for better coverage

Some moisturizers label themselves with SPF. What is important is to check is whether the moisturizer contains broad-spectrum sunscreen coverage and whether the SPF is at least 15. A dermatologist will be able to guide better in an individualized way. In general, it’s better to use sunscreen when out in the sun during the daytime, and a moisturizer in the evening and nighttime.

7. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before stepping into the sun

The sunscreen should be applied after washing the face with a cleanser, after taking a bath, and should be applied 30 minutes before going out in the sun. In Indian skin type, if a patient doesn’t have sun allergy issues or is under dermatology/ aesthetic treatment and the person isn’t going out in sun at all, then he/she can skip sunscreen usage.

The sunscreen should also be repeated every 3 hours when in the sun.

8. Harsh UV rays can damage skin and cause skin cancer, even amongst Indian skin

There are three types of skin cancers – Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Basal Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma that occur due to UV rays. The reported incidence of skin cancers is less than 1% in India.

For an Indian skin, which is Fitzpatrick grade 3 or 4, the following tips may help:

  1. Avoidance of direct sun exposure from 10 am to 4 pm when the sun rays are straight and harsher.
  2. Using physical sun protection like a wide-brimmed hat, umbrella, goggles, masks (especially in the current scenario), caps, wear light-coloured full sleeves cotton clothing (to keep the sun away and not let the heat of summer/sweating affect you).
  3. Using physical sunscreen when out in the sun for long hours especially during holidays or if the profession demands so.
  4. Keep a watch on tell-tale signs of Cancer. Any ulcer that refuses to heal, any ulcer or growth with raised cauliflower-like border, any growth which suddenly changes colour, any growth that ulcerates or bleeds.

And to remember ABCDE of mole: 

A- Asymmetry

B- Border (uneven and notched, instead of soft and smooth of a mole)

C- Color (multiple colours rather than brown)

D- Diameter (if more than 6 mm or 1/4th inch)

E- Evolving (Any change in size, shape, colour, or elevation of a spot on your skin, or any new symptom in it, such as bleeding, itching, or crusting, may be a warning sign of melanoma)