An Expert’s Guide On How To Choose Sunscreen And Apply It The Right Way

Reviewed by Dr. Sravya C Tipirneni

Dermatologist & Cosmetologist | MBBS, MD, D.V.L., AMPH (ISB)

Written by Sumona BoseNov 30, 2023
 An expert’s guide on how to choose sunscreen and apply it the right way

A good sunscreen is essential all year round as your skin needs that extra layer of protection from the harmful UV rays. Sun and UV exposure is the leading cause of developing early signs of aging like fine lines and brown spots. Dermatologists and skincare enthusiasts alike believe in using sunblock properly no matter the time of day, season or skin type and there is a good reason for it. It is often also said that your routine will not show results if sunscreen is missing no matter what the rest of your skincare routine looks like. But given that is such an important step in skincare, you might be wondering how to choose sunscreen properly for your skin type, isn’t it? We consulted our resident skin expert Dr. Sravya Tirpineni to get some deets on the same, starting with the major benefits...


Benefits of using sunscreen

FAQs about how to choose sunscreen

As seen above, using sunscreen regularly has multiple short-term and long-term benefits for the skin.


How to choose the right sunscreen?

FAQs about how to choose sunscreen

Here are some of the things to consider when picking the right sunscreen for you and applying it the right way!

FAQs about how to choose sunscreen

SPF is a very commonly known term related to sunscreen and plays an important role in choosing the right product for you. The full form of SPF is the Sun Protection Factor and it measures how much solar energy is required to cause a sunburn when you're wearing sunscreen compared to unprotected skin. For example, sunscreen with an SPF of 30, when used as directed, prevents 97% of the UVB rays from reaching your skin. An SPF of 50 is able to block about 98%, so technically there is not much of a difference between SPF 30 and 50.

Dr. Tirpineni believes that the difference in SPF is definitely overhyped and always tells her patients the truth about this - it doesn't matter if it's 30 or 50, anything 30 or higher is able to give good protection to your skin.

FAQs about how to choose sunscreen

There are two types of sunscreen formulas available for use for all skin types - physical and chemical sunscreen. There is a lot of debate in the beauty world about which one should you be using and Dr. Tirpineni laid some of it to rest -

1. Physical sunscreen -

Also called mineral sunscreen, physical sunscreens are inorganic in nature and have only two approved ingredients, ie., zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They work by creating a protective barrier on the surface of your skin which uses reflection to scatter the UV radiation away from your body. They can absorb up to 95% of the UV rays and typically leave behind a white cast on your skin. This, however, can be remedied by using a tinted product or one that uses nanotechnology to break down particles.

2. Chemical sunscreen -

Are also popularly known as organic sunscreen, and are formulated with all the other active ingredients that are not zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They absorb into your skin like lotion instead of a thick white and pasty barrier. They work by causing a chemical reaction that converts the UV light into heat so that it does not cost that much damage to your skin.

Dr. Tirpineni revealed that there's only about a 5-10% difference in how physical and chemical sunscreens work.  The trick is to apply a broad-spectrum formula regularly and pick the right ingredient checklist for your skin type. If you have issues like acne or sensitivity, you might want to consult your dermatologist about which one to use, as some physical sunscreens have been known to sting or burn acne-prone, sensitive skin.

FAQs about how to choose sunscreen

There are a lot of different types of sunscreens, the only real difference is that a face sunscreen will be more sensitivity-tested as well as a little lighter, non-greasy and is formulated specifically for the face, and can be tinted for everyday wear. They are less likely to clog your pores, cause breakouts or irritate the skin. On the other hand, body sunscreens can be easily spread as they are in the form of lotion or spray, with a thick barrier which doesn't really matter when it's on other areas of the skin. Another alternative option is stick sunscreen which is perfect for travelling and is a nice on-the-go alternative. They are easy to apply on the delicate skin around your eyes and other parts of your face. Gel-based sunscreens are also a good alternative for excessively oily skin that needs an added mattifying effect.

FAQs about how to choose sunscreen

It is never too late to start wearing sunscreen. Dr. Tirpineni recommends that you can start using sunscreen as early as 6 years old. The right time to apply sunscreen is at least 25-30 minutes prior to stepping out of the house. You need to re-apply sunscreen every 2-3 hours when under direct sun exposure. A sunblock should be worn even when indoors as UV rays can come inside through windows and clouds as well. As for the question about whether you should wear sunscreen at night - that depends entirely on you. Some devices and artificial lights do emit UV radiation and certain sunscreen ingredients can protect against them.

FAQs about how to choose sunscreen

It is crucial to apply the right amount of sunscreen in order to get the appropriate level of protection you are seeking. The popular opinion is to use about the volume of a shot glass (or the size of a golf ball) amount of product from head to toe. For your face, you will need a coin-sized dollop which should be re-applied at least every 2 hours and immediately after activities like swimming or anything that makes you sweat. Make sure to massage it in properly using your fingertips to let the formula sink into your skin and not just sit on it.


FAQs about how to choose sunscreen

FAQs about how to choose sunscreen

Q. How to choose the right sunscreen to wear under makeup?

A. Sunscreen is the last step in your skincare routine and goes before the first step of your makeup. The trick to picking the right sunscreen under makeup is based on your skin type. Makeup itself is quite drying on the skin, and if you already suffer from dryness, use a creamy formula of SPF that is hydrating in nature. Oily skin types can go for water or gel-based sunscreens that won’t melt off from their face under a thick layer of makeup. You can also layer on SPF-infused makeup for added protection to the skin.

Q. Can you mix sunscreen with a moisturiser?

A. It is not recommended to mix sunscreen with a moisturiser as that can dilute the formula and reduce the effectiveness of the sunblock. Sunscreen should always be layered over the rest of your skincare routine to lock it in and form a protective barrier against UV exposure.

Q. How to choose sunscreen for the beach?

A. Heading out to the beach? The right sunscreen will be a water-resistant formula that is non-greasy, lightweight, offers broad-spectrum protection and is at least SPF 40 or higher. It is important to re-apply sunscreen after every 2 hours and every dip in order to stay protected against sun damage. There are some formulas that go on thicker for skin that is prone to get burnt and tanned a lot, so make sure you are slathering it on in ample amounts. Also, use a spray-sunscreen to ease re-application over large areas of your body.

Sumona Bose

Written by

Sumona Bose is a writer, skincare junkie and a self-professed makeup connoisseur. Equipped with a Master's degree in Fashion Management and over 3 years of experience writing in the beauty and fashion space, her passion for learning new things has no bounds. Working closely with dermatologists, beauty excerpts, makeup artists and hairstylists, she brings you the best of all things beauty. From trending skincare ingredients to makeup looks that help you slay, she manages to bring something new (and vital!) to our readers every single time. Her hobbies include home workouts, watching foreign films and binge-watching makeover shows!


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