The harsh summer rays can prove harmful and even cancerous if left unprotected. Sunscreens help to protect your skin from the harmful rays and it is important that you apply one on all exposed parts of the body when you are stepping out in the sun whether it is the summer or any season around. Various cosmetic companies have capitalized on this fact by releasing products with varying levels of SPF or Sun Protection Factor. Even makeup products now come with additional SPF, making it hard to decide which one to choose and in what order to apply them.
To add to the confusion is the presence of another product for sun protection – sun block. Most people don’t realize that this is different and consider it just another name for sunscreen or a marketing strategy to make unsuspecting consumers buy more unnecessary products. But the fact is that sunscreen and sunblock are actually two different products for different purposes. Here is a breakdown on the differences between these similar sounding sun protection methods.
1. Basic function
Sunscreen acts as a chemical barrier or a filter, since it contains ingredients that absorb UVB rays and disperse them. Although it can’t offer 100% protection from the sun, it does prevent most of the damaging rays from penetrating your skin. Sunblock is more of a physical barrier as it contains physical or inorganic ingredients that physically block the sun’s rays. It sits on the skin as a topical layer and blocks both UVA and UVB rays, offering full protection.
Common ingredients in sunscreens are avobenzone and benzophenone. Sunscreens are more prone to have allergenic or irritating ingredients due to its chemical nature. Sunblocks generally contain minerals like Titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Some sun protection products may contain retinyl palmitate which is a form of Vitamin A and touted to be good for anti ageing. However, this can actually cause cancer by accelerating skin damage and far outweighs any anti ageing benefits. Products containing retinyl palmitate are to be avoided at all costs.
Sunscreens are usually thinner and lotion like, becoming transparent on application. This makes it more suitable for daily use and layering with make up. Sunblock is generally whiter and thicker and is more visible on application. Though it is not ideal for daily use, its visibility guarantees that you’ll be able to know when it wears off, thus making reapplication easier. Sunblock is also more durable than sunscreen.
Sunscreens generally have some level of SPF associated with them, which refers to Sun Protection Factor. This number determines how long you can stay in the sun with sunscreen as opposed to bare skin. SPF only refers to protection to UVB rays and not UVA rays. A minimum SPF of 30 is recommended. Sunblock products don’t have SPF numbers since their effectiveness is not measured in that way.
5. Broad Spectrum
While traditional sunscreens only offer UVB protection, newer ones offer both UVA and UVB protection and are called broad spectrum sunscreens. They contain photostabilizer ingredients like Helioplex, Anthelios SX and Meroxyl. Sunblocks already offer both UVA and UVB protection, so they don’t have a separate category of broad spectrum products.
When you choose a sun protection product do so keeping in mind the kind of sun’s exposure you face. In general, a broad spectrum sunscreen is recommended on a daily basis, followed by makeup with SPF, if using. However, if the chemical ingredients in sunscreens irritate, then sunblock might be a better option. Sunblock is also ideal for people staying out in the sun for longer periods, like working on an outdoor site or playing a sport. Before buying, identify the kind of product that would suit your lifestyle and then yes, do check the ingredients! Stay sun safe this summer and protect yourself!
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