Photo: Muhammad Faris on Unsplash
THE SUN IS A MONSTER THAT WANTS TO EAT YOUR SKIN! Have I gotten your attention yet? It’s no secret that sun exposure is about the worst things you can subject your skin to. Redness, premature aging, and skin cancer are just some amongst the long list of consequences caused by repeated exposure to UV rays. So, before you consider investing in pricey serums and essences, having a good sunscreen is the first step to protecting and maintaining your skin. Equal in importance to applying sunscreen daily is applying the right one.
Depending on the ingredients and SPF, different sunscreens can protect your skin in varying ways. Let’s take a deeper look into how to choose the one most suitable for your skin type and personal preferences.
Sunscreens are split into two categories: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens are the most common kind found in drugstores, with brands like Banana Boat and Neutrogena. Chemical sunscreens contain organic compounds like oxybenzone which absorb the UV light so that it can’t penetrate skin. Chemical sunscreens should be applied 20-30 minutes before sun exposure for it to be fully effective. For the most part, chemical sunscreens are reliable and more accessible than its counterpart. However, absorption levels are relatively high, and this may cause bring about secondary health defects. In May 2019, the FDA brought up a concern about oxybenzone, the organic compound found in many chemical sunscreens. It absorbs into the skin more than physical sunscreens, so chemical sunscreens should be used in moderation even though they protect your skin from the sun.
The second general category of sunscreens is physical sunscreen. Instead of absorbing the UV rays, physical sunscreen deflects sun away from the skin. This means that it works right when you apply it, and don’t need to wait before going into the sun. Another plus to physical sunscreen is that it isn’t not absorbed into the bloodstream as much as oxybenzone. Further, the ingredients found in physical sunscreens, zinc oxide and titanium oxide, are generally safer for your health. There is one drawback, however: because physical sunscreens sit on the skin, you will most likely notice it as a white sheen. If you don’t mind the streaks, physical sunscreens are your best bet.
Now, onto picking the right one for your skin type. Skin types are often divided into four categories: normal, dry, oily and combination. Normal skin, or eudermic skin, is healthy and well-balanced, so pretty much any chemical or physical sunscreen would work well for daily use. A functional and affordable option is the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch.
Dry skin refers to a skin type that produces too little sebum, an oily substance secreted by the sebaceous glands to keep your skin moisturized, and cannot retain moisture well. As a result, a good option is to find everyday moisturizers that also contain SPF so that sun protection doesn’t come at the cost of glowing skin. The Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion with Broad Spectrum SPF 15 is worth trying out. Having dry skin myself, I’ve also found that mixing my daily moisturizer with a sunscreen allows me to ensure that my skin is being properly hydrated.
Oily skin overproduces sebum. This makes it a challenge to find suitable sunscreens, as many sunscreens are sticky and leave a shiny cover over the skin, making oily skin appear even greasier. Instead of traditional drugstore sunscreens, oily skin does best with formulas with gel bases or light lotions. An important label to look out for is “non-comedogenic”. Products saying “non-comedogenic” do not clog pores and will prevent oil from building up and minimize the chance of breaking out. If you have oily skin, consider the Cetaphil Pro Oil Absorbing Moisturizer with SPF 30.
Lastly, is combination skin. As the name suggests, it consists of a mix of skin types. Typically, people with combination skin will have an oily T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) and dry areas on the outer areas of the face. The unevenness makes using choosing a sunscreen even more difficult, however the right ones can definitely be found! The trick is to lean towards a lighter product to prevent weighing down the oilier sections of your skin. And if certain areas need more hydration, you can always apply an additional layer of moisturizer beforehand. I would recommend Cerave Ultra-Light Moisturizing Lotion with Sunscreen SPF 30.
Ultimately, these are not rules, but general guidelines to prod you in the right direction.
Each person’s skin skin is different and will react differently to products. Nevertheless, sunscreen should no longer be a one-time product that you put on at the beach, but something that should be incorporated into your everyday life. Do your research, try out different products, and get to know your skin.
Your future self will thank you!
Anna Wu is a 19 year-old writer, dumpling chef, and avid listener of self-help podcasts. As an Asian-American college student, she is passionate about creating content that inspires young people to find and discuss diverse narratives on the journey of better understanding themselves. She is currently studying at Mount Holyoke College.