SPF itself of course isn’t an ingredient, but an umbrella term. But I’m using it for ingredient spotlight anyway because everyone knows about it and things need to be understood.
Simple SPF + Sun Protection Guide: What to know.
What does SPF stand for?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor – the number after SPF is basically a part of a little equation for how long your skin can be in the sun until it burns. For example, the idea is that if a person’s skin will burn after 10 minutes of being subjected to constant UV rays, then wearing a sunscreen with SPF 30, will multiple that time by 30 giving that person 300 minutes before they burn.
Although don’t actually use this to work out how long you can be in the sun without burning.
'But you just said…'. I know. However…
The strength of UV rays throughout the day is going to fluctuate, and unless you’re constantly looking at the UV levels and then adjusting your little equation to see how long you can stay in the sun – you’re probably going to overestimate the amount of time your skin can be subjected to UV rays. Also to make things even more complicated – water, snow and other reflective surfaces can also reflect more UV onto you, so that as you stand on that ski slope, or next to that lake not only do you have the UV coming from the sun but also the UV being reflected off your surroundings.
Because SPF labelling was brought in decades ago when we didn’t really know about UVA rays. Fortunately, scientists came through and now with years of ‘Oh ****, UVA is actually really dangerous’ research to back everything up, UVA protection is now coming into play.
What is the difference between UVA + UVB rays?
UVB – This is the one most people think of when they think of UV rays. It causes skin cancer, sun burns and breaks down the superficial layers of skin and (on a more positive note) is involved in the production of vitamin D. It also is luckily mostly blocked by glass (mostly) and is strongest at around midday – especially during summer.
UVA – This is the one that penetrates further than UVB. Not only does this one age your skin by forming highly reactive free radicals in the skin which then react with your DNA, it also highly contributes to skin cancer like melanoma which is the most serious type of skin cancer that can and does kill.
How do I know I’ve got UVA protection as well?
Well to be able to have the term ‘broad spectrum’ – the sunscreen has to have at least some form of UVA protection.
Otherwise it is down to labelling again. Unfortunately, unlike with SPF – there isn’t a global standard for UVA. Everyone has got their own thing going on.
In Europe: Look for PPD. This stands for ‘persistent pigment darkening’ and is weirdly almost hidden on packaging. Try aim for around PPD 10 and above.
In Asia (and with our sunscreens): Look for PA+. Well actually you won’t have to look for it because unlike the European sunscreens the PA+ level is always made blindingly obvious. PA+++ (which is supposed to be the equivalent of PPD levels 8-16) is a really good level. Think more pluses more protection.
So now we’ve got the labelling down, lets get to the filters.
Hippos are clearly more advanced.
What is the difference between chemical and physical filters in sunscreens?
- The ingredients that make up physical filters in sunscreen (also known as inorganic sunscreen) are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
- The ingredients that make up chemical filters (also known as organic) in sunscreen are basically everything else.
Many sunscreens have a combination of both.
There used to be more differences that you may still hear talked about – but now really the only difference is the inorganic/organic labelling – inorganic meaning the substance contains no carbon and organic meaning the substance contains carbon. I’ll just stick with physical/chemical for simplicity’s sake.
How do they work:
Both types absorb UV rays and turn it into heat. Which is again why organic and inorganic are becoming more commonly used than physical and chemical.
Which one should I go for?
A couple years ago I probably would have said that someone with sensitive skin should go for a physical filter sunscreen because a chemical/organic one is often found to be irritating to sensitive skin types, and if you want to approach on the side of caution than stick to physical/inorganic. But now, with increasing developments specially for sensitive skin I would say to everyone just to go with a sunscreen that at least has SPF 30 and is labelled broad coverage or visibly has the PA+++/PPD 10 that suits your skin type – again with sensitive this may be sticking with a physical filter only sunscreen.
Addressing some concerns:
I’m worried about physical filters: Titanium dioxide makes me look like a clown.
- Physical sunscreens tend to have the danger of leaving a greater white cast, especially titanium dioxide – however just because a sunscreen contains physical filters it doesn’t mean it will leave you looking like you’re featuring in IT. Don’t let it put you off, and do your research or let us do it for you.
- We spent so long testing our sunscreens to make sure they didn’t leave a white cast not only because a white cast is so annoying but also because I would never promote a sunscreen that would put someone off sunscreen. Which is why we spent so long on sunscreens and why we currently only have a small exclusive collection of three (another one is on the way).
Avobenzone in chemical sunscreens has irritated my sensitive skin.
- The sunscreen market has made leaps and bounds into making sure that chemical filters are more sensitive skin friendly and luckily R&D labs around the world have been working on it. (If you have sensitive skin and are concerned we curated the Neogen day light protection sunscreen just for you.) – Our sunscreens (at time of writing) also don’t contain avobenzone.
My sunscreen says it helps me tan safely.
- That is incredibly misleading, frustrating and does no good at all. There is no such thing as a ‘safe tan’ and any sunscreen or as they are more well known in the UK sunTAN cream (whyyy) – will at some point in the future if they carry on with that kind of promotion (and once the law changes) be fined and sued for promoting something that is simply not true. This is like how smoking used to be ‘good for you’. A tan is evidence of skin damage, DNA damage. A tan is not safe. That is all.
Re-apply, re-apply, re-apply.
Not sure how to re-apply without messing up your makeup?
Stay tuned. I’ll do another post, with even more guilt tripping to get you to jump on the SPF super bandwagon.
If anyone wants to really get into the UV protection from our two current sunscreens (more are on the way) here are their UV filters:
Innisfree UV Perfect Protection for dry skin: Diethylamino Hydroxybenzoyl Hexyl Benzoate, Octocrylene, Ethylhexyl Salicylate, Homosalate, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Titanium Dioxide
Neogen Day light Protection Sun Screen: Zinc Oxide, Isoamyl p-Methoxycinnamate, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Titanium Dioxide, Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol, Methoxyphenyl Triazine
References for inquisitive people: