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The Complete Guide to How Sunscreen Works


The Complete Guide to How Sunscreen Works

Sunscreen is one of those modern marvels that we tend to take for granted. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to spend as much time outside enjoying the beach or the park without suffering a severe sunburn or lasting sun damage.

While many hail this simple solution as a must-have in every skincare routine, only a few know of its real benefits. We’ve gathered some answers to frequently asked questions that may have crossed your mind—keep reading to know the truth about how sunscreen works.

What Is the Difference Between Sunblock and Sunscreen?

Many think these terms are interchangeable, but they’re not. Both are effective at preventing sunburn, sun damage, and wrinkles and are great at protecting the skin from harmful UV rays. However, the difference lies in how they protect the skin from sun exposure.

How Sunscreen Works

Sunscreen, also known as chemical sunscreens, protect us from the sun’s UV rays and prevent them from damaging our skin. They’re the most common form of skincare that helps lessen the risk of skin cancer while under the sun.

Sunscreens use a chemical compound to filter out harmful rays from the sun. In particular, they provide protection against UVA rays, which can cause long-term damage to the skin, such as sunspots and premature aging. Because sunscreens can only filter out the UVA rays, they cannot fully prevent UV rays from reaching our skin.

Sunscreens usually contain oxybenzone or avobenzone—both are organic compounds that limit UV light. They may have side effects for people with sensitive skin.

 An image showing how sunblock protects the skin from UV radiation

How Sunblock Works

On the other hand, sunblocks physically create a barrier between the skin and the sun’s harmful UV light. Also called physical sunscreens, sunblocks protect your skin by reflecting UV rays and “blocking” them by forming a physical barrier. Meanwhile, sunscreens will absorb UV rays before they get to your skin.

Sunblock specifically targets the UVB rays that cause sunburns, sun tans, and in severe cases, skin cancer. They contain organic ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, that work to fully block the sun’s rays from penetrating into the skin. Sunblocks are typically thicker in consistency and can generate a white cast on the skin.

How to Choose Sun Protection

As mentioned above, both products are great at preventing skin damage. But when it comes to choosing the best sun protection for your skin, it boils down to the type of activities you like to do.

Sunblocks are the ideal option for long days on the beach or sitting poolside. There are many to choose from, so make sure your sunblock is water-resistant. On the other hand, sunscreens usually have the consistency of a moisturizing lotion and are available with or without a tint, making them the ideal choice for everyday use.

You can easily incorporate sunscreen into your makeup routine, as it will absorb into the skin like any other lotion and help keep you looking young and healthy when used regularly. If you’re looking for lightweight protection without any harsh ingredients, The Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush SPF 50 is perfect for you. It’s also tinted—so you don’t have to worry about layering on concealer during hot, humid days.

Remember that all types of sun protection should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapplied every two hours afterward for maximum protection.

Related article: Summer Sunscreen Essentials

UVA Rays vs UVB Rays

We’ve talked about how sunscreens and sunblocks protect your skin from UVA and UVB Rays, but do you know the difference between the two?

UVA light constitutes 95% of all UV rays transmitted to the Earth’s surface. This light is so powerful that it can even pass through glass and reach deep into our skin. It is also the UVA rays that damage your skin which results in a tan.

On the other hand, UVB rays make up 5% of the UV light emitted by the sun, but it is incredibly strong energy. It damages skin cells enough to cause DNA mutations and melanoma, a type of skin cancer. In severe cases, UVB radiation can also cause cataracts.

What Does SPF Mean and Why Is It Important?

For some people, the meaning of the SPF number on their bottle of sunblock or sunscreen remains a mystery. So, here’s what you need to know about how SPF works:

SPF stands for “sun protection factor” and is used to measure how long a sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays, which are the main source of sunburns and a major cause of skin cancer.

 a woman applying sunscreen

For example, without any type of skin protection, you are likely to get a sunburn in about 20 minutes. If properly applied and reapplied every two hours, sunscreen or sunblock with a sun protection factor of 30 will allow you to safely stay under the sun 30 times longer without skin damage as compared to wearing no protection at all.

You can use this simple formula to choose the right sunscreen strength:

SPF Number x Time to Burn without Protection = Time to Burn with Protection

For example: SPF 15 x 10 minutes = 150 minutes of protection.

Experts also recommend applying sunscreen 30 mins before going out into the sun because this provides enough time for the product to be fully absorbed by the skin for full and lasting protection.

Who Should Use Sunscreen?

The reality is that anyone can get skin damage regardless of age, gender, or skin type. This is why everyone should be using sunscreen, including babies six months and older. This helps minimize short-term and long-term damage to the skin.

Do I Need Sunscreen If It Is Cloudy?

One of the questions people usually ask is if they still need to use sunscreen even though it’s a cloudy day. Just because you can’t see the sun doesn’t mean it’s not there anymore. The sun’s rays can still reach your skin and cause wrinkles, sunspots, and even sunburn. Your best bet is to use sunscreen every day.

Get Expert Sun Protection Solutions From APT Medical Aesthetics

Now that you know more about how sunscreen works and how it differs from sunblock, you are better prepared to have some fun in the sun! Knowing exactly what works for your skin can help you avoid skin damage and protect you from long-term health problems.

Still confused or don’t know where to begin with your skincare journey? Whether you’re looking to treat sun damaged skin with advanced solutions or are looking for medical-grade products to incorporate in your skincare regimen, let our team of experts at APT Medical Aesthetics be your guide!

Contact us today for a free consultation and discover which of our products and services can help you achieve your skincare goals.


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Contact APT Medical Aesthetics now.

Contact APT Medical Aesthetics now. Whether you want to book a consultation, find out more about our services, or simply want to ask a few questions, we would love to hear from you!

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    Contact APT Medical Aesthetics now. Whether you want to book an appointment, find out a bit more about our services, or want to simply ask a few questions, we would love to hear from you!

    APT Medical Aesthetics Ltd. is world-class private complete skin care clinic in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario, serving Oakville. We
    provide our treatments in a safe, trusting, comfortable environment. Our clinic is pleased to offer the most advanced and comprehensive skin care solutions
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