The Science Of Sunscreen

When it comes to sunscreens, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the surplus of information, and the prospect of buying the right sunscreen becomes a daunting task. So we thought we'd give you a crash course on the science behind sunscreens and what you should be looking for when shopping for one.


In order to avoid skin damage that can result in skin cancer and ageing, sunscreens include active substances that shield skin cells from the sun's ultraviolet radiation, including UVB (the rays that cause burning) and UVA (the rays that cause skin ageing). Sunscreens shield skin against UV damage by including either chemical or physical active components (or a combination of the two).


The formulations of sunscreen products can range from creams to lotions to sprays to gels to oils to sticks to mousses to foams to powders. However, lotions and creams are the most commonly used and most effective formulations.


Let's start with the most frequently asked question.

What’s In A Sunscreen & How Does It Work?

Sunscreens typically come in two types: chemical & physical. A chemical sunscreen uses ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. These chemicals work by absorbing the UVA & UVB rays from the sun and releasing them in the form of heat, keeping the skin protected from the harmful effects of the rays.

A physical sunscreen, on the other hand, commonly known as a mineral sunscreen, uses titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which physically block the harmful UVA & UVB rays from penetrating the skin.

What Is SPF?

SPF measures how much solar energy (UV radiation) is needed to cause sunburn on skin that is shielded from the sun (i.e., while wearing sunscreen) compared to how much solar energy is required to cause sunburn on skin that is not protected from the sun.

SPF on sunscreens is usually followed by a number like 15, 30, 40, etc. The higher the number, the better the protection against UVB rays. So a sunscreen with SPF 30 blocks 96.7 percent of UV radiation, allowing 3.3 percent to enter the skin, while SPF 50 blocks 98 percent, allowing just 2 percent to pass.

But remember that the SPF number only refers to UVB protection, so it’s essential to go for sunscreens that say “broad spectrum” protection, which means they offer protection against UVA rays.

What Is The Right Sunscreen For Me?

Between chemical and mineral sunscreens, the often used one is the chemical sunscreen as it is more accessible. But there are pros and cons to both types of protection.

The Pros Of Chemical Sunscreens:

  • It’s fast absorbing, so it dries up on your skin very quickly, making it ideal for daily use.
  • Its lightweight and stain-free formulation make it ideal for those with darker skin tones.
  • Its quick drying properties make it perfect for those who lead a physically active lifestyle and those who tend to sweat a lot.
  • It’s great for beach time, and most chemical sunscreens are water resistant.

The Cons Of Chemical Sunscreens:

  • Sensitive skin is more prone to become irritated by chemical sunscreen ingredients.
  • When the skin is exposed to UV radiation, some chemical sunscreens may result in photosensitivity, increased skin sensitivity, or an atypical skin response.
  • The ingredients found in chemical sunscreens may not be environmentally friendly.

The Pros Of Mineral Sunscreens:

  • The active ingredients do not get absorbed into the skin, making them perfect for those with sensitive skin.
  • The active ingredients found in mineral sunscreens are environmentally friendly.
  • It provides excellent photostability, preventing minerals from deteriorating and losing their effectiveness when exposed to the energy from UV rays.

The Cons Of Mineral Sunscreens:

  • They usually leave a white residue on the skin.
  • It might feel like a heavy application on the skin.

If you are susceptible to skin irritation, then look for a sunscreen that:

  • Has broad spectrum protection
  • Is SPF 30 or higher
  • Is water resistant
  • Is fragrance free, paraben free
  • Is preferably non-comedogenic

While gels and sprays are not ineffective, lotions and creams are most effective at delivering the active ingredients to your skin.

Another essential thing to remember when applying sunscreen is that the effectiveness of a sunscreen fades with time, so make sure to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, and also make sure to use a decent amount (2-3 dollops) of it for it to offer any protection.

For complete sun protection, explore VLCC’s range of sun protection products that are aimed at not only protecting your skin against sun damage but also nourishing your skin.


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