Our foolproof guide to choosing the right sunscreen
Keep your skin away from "darkness"
Despite the fact that most of us are spending more time indoors, it’s important to remember that sunscreen is actually a year-round, non-negotiable necessity. But if you’re new to the big, wide world of sunscreen - it can seem a daunting place to dip your toe in. From broad-spectrum sunscreens in either chemical or mineral formulations to words like UVA and UVB rays, it’s easy to get lost in all the beauty-science jargon.
Which is why to make it that bit easier, we’re breaking down the different types of sunscreens below and listing out are all-time favourites that will protect your skin from sun exposure.
The difference between UVA and UVB
The sun produces two kinds of rays, UVA and UVB rays, both of which cause damage to our skin. So what are the differences between the two and what does this mean when purchasing a sunscreen? UVA rays are constantly present, no matter the season or the weather, which is why we should all be wearing sunscreen all the time - even when it's not sunny out. UVA rays are also what’s responsible for skin aging, because they're able to penetrate much deeper into the surface of the skin, damaging the skin cells beneath.
Whereas UVB rays UVB rays are the ones that are responsible for giving us sunburns. Unlike UVA rays, these rays aren't always the same strength year-round and are stronger in the summer months. Just because they’re not present all-year-round though doesn’t mean they can’t do irreversible damage. UVB rays are actually the kind responsible for causing most skin cancers, which is why they're the ones people tell you to watch out for.
When looking for a sunscreen, you’ll want to choose one that specifically says UVA/UVB or "broad-spectrum coverage" on the bottle as this will be the kind that will protect from both types of rays.
The difference between "SPF" and "PA+"
"SPF" and "PA+" are sun protection factors, but there are a few key differences between them. SPF simply stands for ‘sun protection factor’. A formula’s SPF gives you the time frame in which the sunscreen will prevent you from developing a burn from UVB light.
Whereas the + you might notice next the SPF grade is what is called a PA+ rating which is a system to indicate a product’s UVA protection factor. The more plus signs, the better the protection against UVA.
So just to roundup: UVA → protection correspondsto PA, UVB → protection corresponds to SPF
Another example of this is if a bottle is labelled “SPF100”, the ‘100’ is simply indicating the multiples of time you're safe to be out in the sun before you burn. So in this example, a SPF100 will give you 100 times the number of minutes before you burn than you'd have with no sunscreen protection at all. As you can probably guess a higher SPF number will generally mean the longer you can wait before reapplying, however, beware a higher number doesn’t always mean better protection. As a golden rule, an SPF at or around 50 is the one that will both maximise UVB protection and still retain an easy, spreadable formula that isn’t chalky like higher kinds.
And just like we mentioned earlier, you need to go for a sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB, meaning it’s important to look out for those PA+ signs! The different number of + signs are a rating level developed in Japan, which represent how much UVA protection the product offers. This is what each PA rating means:
PA+ 20-40 minutes, PA++ 40-80 minutes, PA+++ 80-160 minutes, PA++++ 160 minutes or more
So there you have it, our ultimate guide to navigating the world of sunscreen. And just remember, even if you go for a sunscreen that has a high SPF and PA+++, this doesn’t mean you don’t have to reapply it throughout the day and forgo hats and protective clothing. Trust us, your future self will thank you.