Staying sun smart: What you need to know about SPF, sunscreen and sunblock

Sunscreens 101: Everything about sun protection
What’s the deal with sunscreens, sunblocks and SPF? We’ve got the lowdown on how to protect yourself and the family when having fun in the sun!

In Singapore, we spend a lot of time outdoors splashing about in the pool, water play areas or enjoying some sundowners at a picnic. Ultimately, the general advice is to stay in the shade where possible, and definitely out of the sun between 11am and 3pm, which is the hottest time of the day. Planning to be  a beach bum? Then lather up with sunblock or sunscreen and protect yourself and the family. But with so many sun protection products on the market, we were wondering what to look for: sunscreen or sunblock? Physical or chemical? Is it safe to use on bubs? We break it all down for you here so you can be sun safe in Singapore.

Sunscreens, sunblocks and suntan lotions

It probably goes without saying: avoid suntan lotions, especially for your tiny tot. Suntan lotions usually have low SPF (Sun Protection Factor) and are oil-based, which do little to protect you from the sun.

Both sunscreens and sunblocks offer good protection. The main difference is in how they protect the skin against harmful UV rays. Sunblock literally forms a physical barrier on your skin to block out UV rays, while sunscreen absorbs the UV rays.

Physical vs chemical sunscreen

You may also see the words ‘physical’ and ‘chemical’ on sunblock and sunscreen packaging. Chemical sunscreens contain oxybenzone, octylcrylen, avobenzone and octinoxate, which absorb UV rays: they enter skin, are absorbed and released as heat. Physical sunblocks are the ones containing gentler ingredients: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

What ingredients do I need to look out for?

Babies’ skin is far more sensitive to the sun than adults’ skin. It’s therefore best to opt for a physical sunblock as the components are less irritating on bubba’s skin. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are hypoallergenic ingredients and sit on top of the skin rather than being absorbed. Sunblock will generally have a thicker and chalkier consistency because of this – yes, you’ll likely get that white cast on your face with sunblock, but it’s all in the name of protection!

When can I start using sunblock on my baby?

Once they’re over the age of six months. If you’ve got a bub under the age of six months, stick with keeping them in the shade where possible or have them in long-sleeved lightweight clothing and a sunhat.

What do I avoid?

Avoid any products that are a combination of sunscreen and insect repellent. As much as we want to ward off dengue in Singapore and zika, a multiple-use product in this case will end up being less effective all round. Apply sunscreen first, and use an insect repellent after to ward off the mozzies.

How high should your SPF be?

The SPF number indicates how much longer your skin is protected than if you weren’t using it. So SPF 30 means it would take 30 times longer for your skin to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen. But only if you’re using it as directed on the packaging of the product. In short, opt for anywhere between SPF 30 and SPF 50 if you and the gang are going on an outdoor excursion.

Why is UV bad for my skin?

UV rays are ultimately damaging for skin cells and they burn the skin. Extra blood flows to the skin when you’re burnt, which is what causes the skin to go beetroot in colour. On a vanity level, it accelerates ageing, too.

The biggest issue with UV rays and prolonged sun exposure is that they cause skin cancer.

What’s the difference between UVA and UVB?

Opt for a ‘broad-spectrum’ sunblock or sunscreen as it covers both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays cause premature ageing and skin cancer, and UVB rays cause sunburn. Just remember to reapply frequently!

How often do I reapply?

Approximately every two hours, unless you’re taking a dip in the pool! Try and apply it 30 minutes before going in the sun. If you’re using a non-waterproof sunblock, reapply thoroughly to exposed areas after ever swim. A waterproof sunblock will cover you for up to two hours if you’re in and out of the pool. This isn’t the time to be stingy or lazy with the sunblock; take it in turns with hubs to keep an eye on the time and reapply frequently. You can never be too protected!

What do I do if my child gets sunburned?

Take bubba out of the sun and try and keep them out of it for a few days or until the sunburn reduces. Soothe sunburned areas with a cold compress, or apply aloe vera gel or a hypoallergenic moisturiser on affected areas. If a fever persists, a rash occurs, or the skin starts blistering, consult your paediatrician before giving your tot any oral medication to reduce the pain and/or swelling.

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