By now, you probably know you should be using sunscreen. But here’s what’s worrying dermatologists – most Indians aren’t using sunscreen right. As brown-skinned Indians, we’re already at an advantage. The high content of the pigment melanin in our cells protects us from ultra-violet radiation better than white skin.
Our skins, at least for the darker among us, are less likely to show cancer-indicating melanomas over time. But sun exposure still puts us at risk for sunburn, tan, freckles, premature wrinkles and patchy pigmentation. So we still need sunscreen. This includes men too; their skin is just as vulnerable. Here’s how to do it right…
THE NUMBERS GAME: MORE ISN’T BETTER
No, higher SPF is not better. “Sunscreen with SPF 15 or 30 is only marginally different from that with SPF 90 or 100,” says Dr Apratim Goel, dermatologist and laser surgeon at Mumbai’s Cutis Skin Studio. “While SPF 15 blocks a whopping 93 per cent of UV radiation, you’d be surprised to know that SPF 30 blocks 97 per cent, and SPF 50, 98.” Most customers fall for the higher number indicated on the bottle – a marketing phenomenon known as SPF creep – and end up paying more for only a marginal increase in protection. “The ideal SPF for Indian skin is 26,” Goel says. “I recommend using a sunscreen with SPF 30, as we usually end up applying less than required.”
WHAT ABOUT SUNSCREEN + SPF MAKEUP?
While higher SPF isn’t much better, combining two products in the hope of better protection doesn’t work either. So if your sunscreen already has SPF 30, an added layer of makeup, which advertises SPF 15 doesn’t mean a combined protection of 45. It just means that the protection in your makeup is redundant.
FOLLOW IT TO THE LETTER, TO UVA++
There’s still one instance when you should believe the marketing. SPF is only an indicator for UVB (shortwave), not UVA (longwave), another component that is more harmful. “So a sunscreen that contains UVA++ is good to use, and one with TPI [Tan Protection Index, which also protects against tanning] is better.”
THE RIGHT ROUTINE
HOW TO USE YOUR SUNSCREEN
It’s not what you use, it’s also how you use it. Most dermatologists recommend you apply liberally over all areas of skin that will be exposed to sunlight – overlooked areas like the ears and the back of the neck included. And make sunscreen a daily habit not just for the summer but all year round – even the monsoon. “You can’t see the sun in the monsoon, but the sun can see you!” says Dr Swati Shrivastava, a dermatologist at VLCC.
WHEN YOU SHOULD APPLY IT
Dr Goel recommends making sunscreen a part of your morning routine. “Store the bottle in your bathroom and apply it out of habit each morning after a shower – that’s what I do,” Dr Goel says. This ensures not only that you’ve put some on each day, but also that you give the cream ample time to settle as most sunscreens need about 15 minutes on the skin before they can get to work.
THE CORRECT WAY TO REPLENISH
Because the effects of one application of sunscreen typically last for two to three hours, most doctors also recommend that you reapply often, particularly if you plan to be out in the sun for long periods. “If you’re in a dusty area, first wipe off the existing cream with cleansing wipes and only then reapply,” says Dr Goel. “Otherwise you end up pushing the dust further into the skin, blocking the pores.” Use up the product within the expiry date, as most sunscreens lose their power to fight UV rays after a period of time.
USE OTHER LAYERS OF PROTECTION TOO
Along with sunscreen, Dr Shrivastava also recommends simple physical blocks which form an opaque layer over your body. Think umbrellas, sun-coats, scarves, hats and full-sleeved garments. The American Skin Cancer foundation says that a standard white T-shirt offers about SPF 7, but darker colours, being more opaque, are better at keeping UV rays out.
NO SUNSCREEN? HERE’S A QUICK FIX
If you’ve run out of cream and need to step out, just reach for your talcum powder. “Talc contains zinc and zinc is also protection,” says Dr Shrivastava. “On days you miss the sunscreen, simply dust your face and arms with talc, or apply make-up, as that too is a protective layer over the skin.”