How to decipher sunscreen labels

[By Cara Solis]

Kiss me hard before you go

Summertime sadness

I just wanted you to know

That baby you’re the best— Summertime Sadness, Lana Del Rey.

If there’s only one thing you have to pick to spend the forthcoming summer with, it shouldn’t be that summer lover to shower you with kisses nor should it be that itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikini to help you net that Adonis. Drumroll please. The only thing you certainly can’t live without this summer will be your good old sunscreen. The truth is, anyone over the age of six months should use a sunscreen daily, and this is especially true during the sun soaked months of summer.  Even those working indoors are exposed to ultraviolet radiation for brief periods throughout the day, especially if they work near windows, which generally filter out UVB but not UVA rays.

“Sunscreens are products which combine several ingredients that help prevent the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, divided into UVA and UVB, from damaging our skin,” explains Dr. Kenneth Lee, medical director with The Sloane Clinic, “UVB is the chief culprit behind sunburn, while UVA, which penetrate deeper into the skin causes photo-aging, characterized by wrinkling, leathering and sagging. More importantly, long term unprotected exposure to both UVA and UVB lead to increased incidence of skin malignancies.”

The sunscreen aisle of a drugstore often offers lots of choices, but which one is right for you? To get you ready for those sun shining days ahead, let us tell you what to consider while looking for the perfect match that best fits your lifestyle.


SPF otherwise known as the Sun Protection Factor, is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. Here’s how it works. If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer, which is about five hours.

If we look at this in term of percentages, SPF 15 filters out approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays, SPF 30 keeps out 97 percent, SPF 50 keeps out 98 percent while SPF70 guards against almost 100% of them.  They may seem like negligible differences, but if you are light-sensitive, or have a history of skin cancer, those extra percentages will make a significant difference. And as you can see, no sunscreen can block all UV rays. SPF should not be your only consideration while choosing a sunblock. As “reddening” of skin is a reaction to UVB rays alone, it tells you little about the photo-aging UVA rays you are exposed to, with plenty of damages done even without the red flag of sunburn being raised!

P1469hysical versus Chemical blockers

Before we come to that, to ensure protection against both UVA annd UVB, consider a sunscreen which offers broad spectrum protection notwithstanding the numeric value of its SPF. Only broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher help protect against skin cancer and early skin aging if used as directed with other sun protection measures.

Physical sunscreens are at times known as “natural”  ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They literally sit on top of the skin and deflect or reflect the sun’s rays, acting much like a shield. Being thicker in texture, they can leave an opaque, white cast on the skin especially when applied in adequate amount. But being 100 % chemical free, it is the sunscreen of choice for baby and children, sensitive skin and individuals who went through any lasers or light therapy.

Chemical sunscreens aren’t as thick, so they are often used in sunscreens specifically made for the face as well as those found in spray bottles. Since chemical sunscreens need to be absorbed into the skin, they must be applied at least 20 minutes before heading outdoors. Chemical sunscreens contain several ingredients that, when applied, are absorbed in the top layer of skin and hence do not leave a tinge of white as compared to physical sunscreens. They react with the skin to absorb UV rays and convert them before they can harm the skin. A good example of a chemical sun fighter will be the newly launched Sloane Inc. Ultralite Clear Finish Sunscreen SPF50. This super lightweight formula forms a breathable shield to safeguard vulnerable complexions from both burn-causing UVB beams and wrinkle-inducing UVA rays with a multi-filter chemical sunscreen complex. Additional natural botanicals and potent plant-extracts provide extra perks to help smoothen and brighten skin while offering excellent sun protection without embarassing white streaks. A true saviour for summer beach goddesses with darker skin tones.


As of Dec 2012, FDA had stipulated a law against the false declaration of “waterprooft” and “sweatproof” on suncare products as strictly speaking, no products will stay on the skin and offer the same amount of sun protective effects forever. Sunscreens may however be labelled as “water-resistant,” if they specify whether they protect the skin for 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or sweating, based on standard testing.

For instance, the Sloane Inc. Sunblock SPF 70, a perennial favourite amongst industry heavyweights during outdoor shoots, had been evaluated and marked as water resistant for at least 60 mins in jacuzzi water, making it highly effective for seaside activities and pool parties!

1467How much, how often?

To ensure that you get the full SPF of a sunscreen, you will need to apply 1 oz or 30mls of sunscreen to cover all exposed areas adequately. As a gauge, this amount is equivalent to a full shot glass, no less! Studies had shown that most people apply only half to a quarter of that amount, which means the actual SPF they have on their body is lower than what’s advertised on the label.

During a long day at the beach, one person should use around half to a quarter of an 8 oz. bottle. Sunscreens should also be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow the ingredients to fully bind to the skin. This is especially important to take note if you are using the chemical variant. A common mistake is to slather on the sun protective film only after getting out under the sun. Reapplication of sunscreen is equally important as its initial use. Reapply the same amount every two hours and immediately after swimming, toweling off, or if you are sweating up a frenzy. With the correct type of sun protection, everyone should be allow to enjoy a little wamth under the summer’s sun without worrying.


You might also like:

2 thoughts on “How to decipher Sunscreen labels”

  1. I’m naturally tan to dark skin so I absolutely abhor the white streaks associated with sunscreen. Glad to know there are now products that won’t leave behind unsightly marks while offering substantial sun protection against photo-aging! Tks for the recommendation!

  2. Thanks for the tips! I’m always wondering how frequent we should reapply sunscreen, especially for the face. And if it’s enough to use only foundation or press powder with SPF.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *