Sunlight is essential for building healthy bones, but the same in excess can also harm your skin irreparably. You are more prone to the ill-effects of sunlight if you are light skinned and live in tropical region. People with dark skin are naturally protected against intense sunlight, but they too will need to apply sunscreen if they spend a lot of time working under the sun. The harmful effects of exposure are – increases the risk of contracting skin cancer, premature aging and damage to the skin, and damage to the layer of organs below the skin.
The main purpose of a sunscreen is to minimize UV & UVB (ultra-violet) rays from reaching the skin, and they act by either absorbing the harmful rays or by reflecting them. UVB is mostly responsible for sunburn but does not reach deeper than the outer layer. UV on the other hand can be more damaging, because, it is capable of penetrating through the skin deeper.
Sunscreens are of two types – organic and inorganic, and some with a combination of the two. When you understand how each of these acts to protect your skin, you will be able to decide on the right type for your needs.
- Organic sunscreens – They are also sometimes called chemical sunscreens and they act by absorbing the UV and UVB rays and converting them into heat (you will not feel the heat, because it is small). Some of the commonly used chemicals are avobenzone, cinoxate, octyl salicylate, ecamsule, octyl methoxycinnamate, menthyl anthranilate, oxybenzone or sulisobenzone. Organic sunscreens are more common than the inorganic type.
- Inorganic sunscreens – Unlike the organic sunscreens, inorganic sunscreens reflect UV and UVB rays. There is no heat produced in this type of sunscreen which is a major advantage. The basic ingredients used are either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
In practice however, most manufacturers combine the two to provide optimum protection for the skin. In addition, sunscreens will be enhanced by adding vitamins and insect repellents.
Sunscreens are produced in cream form or as spray (or gel). Cream form is best on hairless skin while spray is preferable on hairy skin. Spray is most often preferred for kids, because it is easy to apply. You will also more often read about SPF in sunscreen products. If you foresee the possibility of remaining under the sun for long time, choose a product that has an SPF of 15 or higher. At this level, you are reasonably assured of protection from skin cancer due to sun exposure.