HELLO Sunshine!

All you need to know about the bottle that helps you soak up the sun.

It's that time of the year when you pull out your breezy summer shifts, broad-rimmed shades, flip-flops and sun block. The season demands that you shield your body from UV damage. The right kind of sunscreen helps you enjoy the sun without worrying about premature ageing, skin irritation and in some cases, skin cancer. While more of us are using sunscreens, most of us aren't sure exactly what protection they offer, and are cloudy about the technical terms on the labels. Here, we tell you all you need to know-from why you need to buy a new bottle every season to how to apply sunscreen for maximum protection.

1. What kind of damage can UV rays really cause to our skin?
Overexposure to sunlight without sunscreen can cause sunburns, discolouration and irritation. Even at low levels of exposure, UVA rays break down collagen causing wrinkles. UVB rays cause skin burn, darkening, irritation and in extreme cases, skin cancer. "I encounter a large number of patients complaining about irritation and sun aggravated skin disorders like miliaria, acne, rosacea and lupus," says Dr Apratim Goel, director, Goel's Cutis Clinic, Mumbai. Adds Dr Navin Taneja, director, National Skin Centre, Delhi, "UVB affects the top layers of the skin but the damage is principally due to the combined action of UVB and UVA rays." Research shows that as many as 90% of skin cancers are caused due to UV radiation. But the good news is that skin cancer is not very common in India.

2. But we're dark-skinned, do we really need sunscreen?
The inherent colour and quality of our skin offers us some amount of protection. "Our brown skins offer natural protection from the sun due to the higher melanin content which blocks the UV rays," says Taneja. However we can all face skin damage such as sun spots, freckling and pigmentation. "People of all skin colours should use a sunscreen with SPF 15 and UVA coverage, when out in the sun," he says. Choose a hydrating sunscreen lotion, so you don't need additional moisturising. Nowadays, many moisturisers and make-up base come with added SPF factor

3. Does SPF determine my sunscreen's strength?
SPF (sun protection factor) evolved as a lab measure to test the effectiveness of a sunscreen. It refers to the sunscreen's ability to block out the sun's harmful UVB rays. SPF is also a measure of the length of time a product protects against skin reddening from UVB, compared to how long the skin takes to redden without protection. So if it takes 20 minutes to begin reddening, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer (which is 300 minutes or five hours). While SPF measures the amount of UVB absorption, it is not the only thing to look for.

4. What is broad spectrum protection?
A sunscreen with broad spectrum protects against both UVB and UVA rays-the latter causes wrinkles and premature ageing. UVB rays (which can be tackled with SPF), are the cause of skin burn, irritation and skin cancer. "A good broad-spectrum sunscreen should have an SPF 15 and contain avobenzone, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide," advices Dr Chytra Anand, medical director, Kosmoderma Clinic, Bengaluru.


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