Your guide to buying a sunscreen

By now most of us know that using a sunscreen is extremely important in today’s day and age. After all, nobody would want to suffer from ghastly sunburns, premature ageing and pigmentation.  Having said that, the next step would be deciding on which to choose among the sea of options that are available out there. Here, we enlighten you on the different types and labels seen on the pack to make your choice easier.

Skin Type

Depending upon your skin type, certain sunscreens would be more suited than others…


Dry skin needs more moisturisation and hydration. So, opt for a sunscreen accordingly. Sargam Dhawan, Director, Paul Penders shares, “It is best to go for a lotion/cream-based product. Look for ingredients like aloe vera which doesn’t make your skin look flaky.” Vitamin E infused sunscreens can also help in giving you extra nourishment. Another trick is to mix a bland and thick moisturiser with your sunscreen for a boost.

Click here to buy aloe vera based sunscreen


It’s recommended to buy something that is lightweight and fluid as it will easily blend into the skin without clogging the pores. Sargam suggests, “Apply a gel-based sunscreen which is non-greasy. In terms of specific ingredients, look for ones that limit the oil-producing glands from producing excessive oil.” For instance, something with lemon extract can help control the oil. Water-based sunscreens work well too as the chances of a breakout with them are less. If your skin gets a bit too shiny, you can go for one with a matte finish. If your product has the label ‘non-comedogenic’, that’s even better.


Combination skin can be a tricky one as you have to draw a balance between moisturising and oil control. To be on the safer side, stick to a product that leans more towards the lighter side. Sargam shares, “Apply a lightweight sunscreen that provides an advantage to your skin and ensures proper coverage.” An ingredient like aloe vera works in this case as it hydrates and smoothens the skin without making it oily.


Sargam says, “Use a mineral-based sunscreen instead of a chemical one. The product should also be free of any scents which might cause allergic reactions.” If you are going for a chemical sunscreen, do read the ingredients carefully. As they get absorbed by the skin and do not sit on it in a form a layer, certain substances can cause a reaction. You can look for products or brands that are hypoallergenic in nature as they are least likely to give you a rash or breakout.

Acne – Prone

Sargam advises, “Apply sunscreens that are free from oil, typically this would be a lightweight one. Look for ingredients which have a cooling effect and can reduce the oiliness.” Non-comedogenic products or gel sunscreens would be ideal. However, if your skin is flaky due to acne medications, ensure that the product is free from fragrance and alcohol (gel-based sunscreens usually do have a bit of alcohol). In this case, you can stick to lightweight lotions.

Natural based sunscreens are usually a safer option. 

Dusky skin

Hate how the sunscreen makes your face look chalky? Certain mineral sunscreens as they leave a whitish layer on the skin conflicting with your natural tone, so choose wisely. You can go for a chemical or micronised sunscreen that would blend easily giving a natural look. Or, select a product that has sheer broad-spectrum coverage. Other options include applying tinted lotions or creams that have SPF.

Fair skin

As you already may be aware, lighter skin has lesser melanin and thus more susceptible to the harsh rays from the sun. You will need something that is stronger, anything lesser than SPF 30 is not recommended. It’s ideal to go for a sunscreen with an SPF of 50+. Look for a product that has UVA and UVB protection as well as PA+++.

Sunscreen Type

Gone are the days when the only option for sunscreens was limited to cream-based. Today you can take your pick from gel-based, sprays and sticks as well.


Appearing to be jelly-like and almost transparent, gel sunscreens are usually water-based and oil-free. Due to their formulation which is clear, bouncy and chemical-based, they quickly get absorbed by the skin and disappear when applied. They are unlike mineral sunscreens that provide a film of protection on the skin leaving a chalky impression. Dr. Sravya Tipirneni, Consultant – Dermatologist & Cosmetologist, Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield elaborates that gel-based ones are best suited for oily skin as they can dry out the skin more. Sargam adds “Some gel-based sunscreens can result in an allergic reaction due to the presence of chemicals. The advantage is that this type lowers the chances of blotchiness on the face.”

Click here to buy gel-based sunscreen 

Lotion and Cream based

Cream-based sunscreens are usually thicker, often water-based and usually have a bit of oil base as well. They take for a longer time to get absorbed into the skin. Due to their thick base and presence of oil, they work best with dry skin. Lotions too have hydrating properties in them and more suited to dry and normal skin. Sangram shares, “Both help in moisturizing the skin in addition to protection from UV rays.” Sravya adds, “Some lotions tend to leave a powdery base. They can easily be spread over large surface areas of the body.”


Dr Sravya Tipirneni shares the primary advantages of a stick sunscreen. They are easily applicable, good for large surfaces as well as beach use and loved by the kids. The products are compact (hence travel-friendly) and can easily be glided over the skin. Plus, you do not have to worry about getting all greasy or having a white cast on your skin. This type of sunscreens works best with targeted areas as well such as nose, shoulders, etc. Since they usually have wax in them, they stick around for a longer time. Sangram Dhawan, Director, Paul Penders adds, “Most stick sunscreens will not wear off in the water.” The downside is that they do not spread as easily as a lotion or cream. Sangram shares, “The application of this kind of sunscreens is a bit difficult as it doesn’t get smudged easily.”


Spray sunscreens are quite lightweight and dry almost instantly after putting it on your skin. They also come with the advantage of not leaving any oiliness behind. As per Sangram, they can be easily applied as they have better coverage. Also, it’s convenient and easy to use.  There are certain downfalls too. Dr Sravya Tipirneni, Consultant – Dermatologist & Cosmetologist, Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield shares, “In case of other sunscreens, like cream and lotion based, you are applying enough to protect your skin, but in the case of sprays, you might not be applying the amount that is needed for full protection.” Sangram elaborates, “They’re aerosols so it’s not evenly applied on the skin and 30 % is lost.” To ensure that you get the most of the spray sunscreen, spray it till your skin glistens.

Though it is best to take some cautionary measures before using these.

  • Do not inhale it.
  • Do not put it near the face or mouth (rather apply on the hand and then rub it on the face).
  • They are usually flammable and hence should not be applied near an open fire, flame or while smoking.
  • There is still debate over if it’s safe to be used for children or no, so check with your doctor first.

Click here to buy sunscreen spray

UVA and UVB protection

While both UVA and UVB are rays of the sun, they differ in terms of the damage they cause. The main reason behind sunburn, UVB can affect the surface layer of the skin and cause skin cancer. UVA rays, on the other hand, get deep into the skin leading to premature ageing, wrinkling and sagging. Needless to say, you need protection from both, the answer to which lies in a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Dr Sravya elaborates, “A broad-spectrum sunscreen provides protection from UVA, UVB and the INFRARED SPECTRUM. Recent studies suggest that even the visibility of the spectrum of light causes significant photodamage, hence newer sunscreens cover this spectrum as well.”

Chemical vs mineral sunscreens


Both offer protection but in a different manner…

Chemical sunscreens

These enter your skin and shield you from sun damage by dissipating UV rays. Chemical sunscreens as the name suggest use chemicals as active ingredients. These compounds in the product first absorb the rays and then dispel them through a chemical reaction. As the UV rays never enter your body, your skin remains protected. But since the rays are first taken in by the body before dissipating them, they can cause reactions to those with sensitive skin.

Mineral sunscreen

Also referred to as physical sunscreen, these create a film that acts as a barrier between the sun rays and skin. So instead of absorbing the rays, they reflect them, away from the body. Mineral sunscreens use minerals (such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) as active ingredients. Due to their nature, they cause a white cast on the skin. For better application of the same, ensure that your skin is well hydrated and moisturised before applying.


Most of us already know that SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. But what about the numbers that come after it? How much is ideal? While no sunscreen offers hundred percentage protection from the UVB rays, the higher the SPF, the more the protection. It is also a mark of how long you can stay in the sun without burning. Do note: Especially if you are outdoors, it is recommended to reapply the sunscreen (no matter what the SPF) every two hours.

SPF 15 – Is believed to filter out 93 percent of incoming UVB rays. Also, if it takes around 20 minutes for your skin to start turning red under the sun, the product will prolong the sunburn 15 times longer (about 20×15 = 300 minutes). As per Dr Sravya, this SPF is ideal for kids of 2- 6 years of age.

SPF 24 – As per Dr Sravya, this SPF is more suited for those with indoor jobs.

SPF 30 – This SPF offers 97 percent protection from the UVB rays. If it takes around 20 minutes for your skin to start turning red under the sun, it will prolong the sunburn 30 times longer. Dr Sravya suggests this SPF for daily routine for those with a little commute.

Click here to buy a herbal based sunscreen of SPF 30

SPF 50This SPF is strong enough to filter out 98 percent of the UVB rays. Dr Sravya suggests that it is ideal for daily use and vacations. Depending on if you have photodermatoses or other conditions, it can go higher.

Click to buy sunscreens with SPF 50

PA distinguishers

Another label you must have noticed in most sunscreens is PA. As per Dr Sravya, “PA simply means Protection Grade of UVA rays, which is used to measure the SPF of a sunscreen. This Japanese measurement ranking which is now widely used is based on the Persistent Pigment Darkening (PPD) reaction reading at 2-4 hours of sun exposure.”

Sangram breaks down the distinguishers:

PA+ – Indicates some UVA protection (with a PPD factor of 2 – 4).

PA++ – Offers moderate UVA protection (with a PPD factor that ranges from 4 -8).

PA+++ – Indicates high UVA protection (with a PPD factor of 8).

Note: If you have extreme skin sensitivity, a family history of skin cancer, are pregnant, feeding or buying a sunscreen for your child, please check with your doctor first.

The right sunscreen is like an investment for good and safe skin. Just ensure that you take the suitable pick!

Article by – Prajna Rao

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