Why Sunscreen is a Must-Have for Healthy & Glowing Skin?


In the vast realm of skincare, few products hold as much significance as sunscreen. Beyond its association with lazy beach days or tropical vacations, sunscreen is a stalwart guardian of skin health, offering protection against the sun’s relentless barrage of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. From preventing sunburns to warding off premature aging and reducing the risk of skin cancer, the benefits of sunscreen extend far beyond cosmetic concerns.

In this article along with the research-based benefits of sunscreen, we will discuss how to choose the best sunscreen, the nuances of sunscreen usage, and dispel common myths around high spf to help you make informed decisions about your skin’s well-being.

Did You Know?

In Western countries, there is a high level of awareness regarding sunscreens, their benefits, and their proper usage. However, in the Indian scenario, sunscreens are often perceived merely as cosmetic products and are primarily used to prevent tanning [1].

I. Importance of Sunscreen:

1. Protection against UV radiation:

-Sunscreen forms a protective barrier on the skin, shielding it from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by the sun.
-UV radiation consists of UVA and UVB rays, which can cause various forms of skin damage, including sunburns, premature aging, and an increased risk of skin cancer [2].

-By applying sunscreen regularly, individuals can significantly reduce their exposure to UV radiation and mitigate its adverse effects on the skin.

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2. Prevention of premature aging:

-UV radiation is a primary contributor to premature aging of the skin, characterized by the development of wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots [2].
-Sunscreen helps to preserve the skin’s youthful appearance by preventing UV-induced damage to collagen and elastin fibers, which are essential for maintaining skin elasticity and firmness.

-Consistent use of sunscreen can minimize the visible signs of aging and promote a smoother, more radiant complexion over time.

3. Reduction of skin cancer risk:

-Exposure to UV radiation is a leading cause of skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma [2].
-Studies have shown that regular use of sunscreen significantly decreases the risk of developing skin cancer, making it a crucial preventive measure for overall health and well-being.

-Sunscreen acts as a barrier against harmful UV rays, helping to prevent DNA damage and the subsequent development of cancerous cells in the skin.

4. Prevention of sunburns:

-Sunburns are not only painful and uncomfortable but also indicative of skin damage caused by excessive UV exposure [2].
-Sunscreen provides a protective layer that helps to prevent sunburns by absorbing or reflecting UV radiation before it penetrates the skin.

-Applying sunscreen before outdoor activities or sun exposure can help individuals avoid the discomfort and potential long-term consequences associated with sunburns.

5. Maintenance of even skin tone:

-Prolonged sun exposure can lead to uneven pigmentation and the development of dark spots or hyperpigmentation on the skin.
-Sunscreen helps to maintain a more even skin tone by protecting against the UV-induced production of melanin, the pigment responsible for skin coloration.

-By preventing the formation of dark spots and pigmentation irregularities, sunscreen promotes a smoother, more uniform complexion.

6. Preservation of skin health:

-Overall, the regular use of sunscreen contributes to the preservation of skin health and vitality.
-By minimizing UV-induced damage, sunscreen helps to keep the skin looking and feeling its best, reducing the risk of various skin conditions and promoting long-term wellness [2].

-Incorporating sunscreen into a daily skincare routine is a simple yet effective way to protect the skin and maintain its health and resilience for years to come.

II. Choosing the Right Sunscreen:

Selecting an appropriate sunscreen involves consideration of various factors [2,3]:

1. Broad-spectrum protection: Opt for a sunscreen offering broad-spectrum protection to shield against both UVA and UVB rays.

2. SPF (sun protection factor): Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. SPF indicates the level of protection against UVB rays. SPF 30 filters approximately 97% of UVB radiation, while higher SPFs offer only marginally increased protection.

3. Water resistance: If engaging in water-related activities or excessive perspiration, opt for a water-resistant sunscreen to ensure prolonged efficacy.

4. Skin type & sensitivity: Individuals with sensitive skin or specific dermatological conditions may benefit from hypoallergenic or fragrance-free formulas. Additionally, consider non-comedogenic options to prevent pore clogging.

5. Ingredients: Look for key ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which provide physical barrier protection, or avobenzone and oxybenzone for chemical UV absorption.

6. Additional features: Some sunscreens offer additional features such as moisturizing ingredients, antioxidants, or tinted formulations. Moisturizing sunscreens can be beneficial for dry or dehydrated skin, while antioxidants help neutralize free radicals generated by UV exposure. Tinted sunscreens provide added coverage and can even out skin tone, making them ideal for daily wear.

III. Effective Application Techniques:

Merely possessing sunscreen is insufficient; proper application is paramount:

1. Generous application: Apply sunscreen liberally to ensure adequate coverage. Squeeze an adequate amount of sunscreen onto the index and middle fingers of one hand. The amount should be enough to cover the exposed areas of your face and neck.

2. Frequent reapplication: Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after swimming, sweating excessively, or towel-drying.

3. Pre-application: Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before sun exposure to allow adequate absorption and efficacy.

4. Complete coverage: Pay attention to commonly overlooked areas such as ears, neck, lips, scalp (if hair is thinning or if bald), and the back of hands and feet.

5. Layering: Layering sunscreen with other sun-protective measures like hats, sunglasses, and protective clothing enhances efficacy.

IV. Sunscreen for Lips:

The delicate skin of the lips is particularly susceptible to sun damage. Lip-specific sunscreens or balms with SPF offer targeted protection. Opt for products enriched with moisturizing ingredients like shea butter or coconut oil to prevent dryness and chapping. Reapplication is crucial, especially after eating, drinking, or prolonged sun exposure.

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V. Debunking the High SPF Myth:

While it may seem logical to opt for sunscreens with extremely high SPF values like 75 or 100 for enhanced protection, there are several reasons why this may not be necessary or even advisable [4]:

1. Marginal increase in protection: The increase in sun protection factor (SPF) beyond a certain point does not offer significantly greater protection. For example, SPF 30 filters out approximately 97% of UVB rays, while SPF 50 filters out about 98%. The marginal difference in protection between SPF 50 and higher values like 75 or 100 is minimal, offering only slightly increased UVB protection.

2. Limited protection against UVA rays: SPF primarily measures a sunscreen’s ability to protect against UVB rays, which cause sunburns. However, it does not adequately measure protection against UVA rays, which contribute to skin aging and increase the risk of skin cancer.  High SPF sunscreens usually offer far greater UVB than UVA protection, thus offering a false sense of full protection. Additionally, to have broad spectrum protection, the UVA protection should be at least 1/3 of the UVB protection. Therefore, relying solely on high SPF sunscreens may result in inadequate protection against UVA radiation.

3. False sense of security: High SPF values can create a false sense of security, leading individuals to believe that they are immune to sun damage or can spend prolonged periods in the sun without reapplying sunscreen. This misconception can be dangerous, as no sunscreen provides complete protection, and proper application and reapplication are essential for effective sun protection.

4. Potential for irritation: Sunscreens with extremely high SPF values may contain higher concentrations of active ingredients, such as chemical filters or preservatives, which can increase the risk of skin irritation or allergic reactions, particularly for individuals with sensitive skin.

5. Cost & availability: Sunscreens with very high SPF values tend to be more expensive and may be less readily available compared to lower SPF options. Investing in unnecessarily high SPF sunscreens may not provide additional benefits commensurate with the increased cost.

6. Reapplication: Individuals may be less likely to reapply sunscreen as frequently as recommended when using high SPF formulations, assuming that one application offers extended protection. However, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, or more frequently if swimming, sweating, or towel-drying, regardless of the SPF value.

Final Takeaway

Integrating sunscreen into your daily skincare regimen is imperative for maintaining skin health and preventing UV-induced damage. By selecting the appropriate sunscreen, debunking SPF misconceptions, mastering effective application techniques, and addressing specialized needs like lip protection, individuals can mitigate the adverse effects of sun exposure, fostering a radiant and resilient complexion for years to come.

(The article is written by Monalisa Deka, Senior Health Content Editor)

1. Agarwal SB, Godse K, Patil S, et al. Knowledge and Attitude of General Population toward Effects of Sun Exposure and Use of Sunscreens. Indian J Dermatol. 2018; 63(4): 285–291. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6052747/
2. Geoffrey K, Mwangi AN, Maru SM. Sunscreen products: Rationale for use, formulation development, and regulatory considerations.Saudi Pharm J. 2019; 27(7): 1009–1018. Available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6978633/
3. AAD. How to select a sunscreen. 2024. Available online: https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/shade-clothing-sunscreen/how-to-select-sunscreen
4. The Trouble with SPF. EWG Research. Available online: https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/whats-wrong-with-high-spf/

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