Sunscreen FAQs: The Most Important Things You Should Know


How does sunscreen actually work? Is sunscreen safe? How to choose a sunscreen? Is using sunscreen really effective? Let’s answer these questions and more so you can better protect yourself from harmful UV rays and make a better choice when it comes to buying a sunscreen.

First, how does sunscreen actually work? It’s about scattering and/or absorbing the UV radiation that comes with sunlight. Ultraviolet radiation is harmful because they damage the DNA of skin cells, which can then in turn affect normal skin cell growth. Aside from causing some skin cancers, the UV rays can also cause wrinkles and sunburns. As a result, it’s important to stop the UV radiation from reaching our skin. There are two general ways to accomplish this: Scatter the UV (sunscreen containing minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) and absorb the UV and stop it from reaching the skin (some sunscreen products contain oxybenzone, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, octocrylene and butyl methoxy dibenzoylmethane).

Is using sunscreen really effective?

As explained above, it’s about scattering and/or absorbing the sun’s UV rays. With the help of UV absorbers and/or scattering ingredients, the sunscreen will be very effective in protecting the skin. However, there are fine details for the products to be really effective. We also have to think of the duration of protection because sunscreen still loses their effectiveness through time and exposure.

For instance, there’s the Sun Protection Factor or SPF. A sunscreen with SPF30 applied will protect the skin from burns and redness for approximately 300 minutes or 5 hours. It’s just theoretical though because the effect varies depending on skin type and UV levels. For maximum protection, it’s always good to choose a sunscreen with SPF30 and higher, water-resistant (e.g. while swimming the water can rapidly wash away the sunscreen) and with broad spectrum (effectively blocks UVA, UVB and UVC rays).

Is sunscreen safe? For babies especially the ones under 12 months old, it’s best to avoid using sunscreen because of the babies’ sensitive skin. Application of sunscreen might result to adverse reactions. For effective sun protection, what works best is to keep the babies away from direct sunlight especially during those times when UV radiation is strongest (e.g. middle of the day during summer and UV rays can be the strongest between 10am and 4pm). This also applies to us adults because no type or amount of sunscreen can really protect us if we’re pushing it too far.

How to choose a sunscreen

As mentioned earlier, it’s good to choose a sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage, water-resistant and with a high SPF. Also, it’s good to consider your skin type (dry skin) before purchasing a bottle of sunscreen.

It also helps if you purchase at least two bottles where there’s one you have at home and one in your car or a bottle that you can always bring with you whenever you go out. You’ll never know how long you’d be in the sun and when outdoors will be very unforgiving.

There might still be issues about using sunscreen but the risk of not using it is just far greater. In 2015 alone there are almost a million cases of skin cancer in Australia. In fact, every year skin cancer causes more deaths than transport accidents. It’s time to get serious about sunscreen because of how sunlight can damage our skin and affect our health.