Ahh Summer. Long days spent frolicking in the sunshine, lounging on the beach, enjoying an afternoon BBQ in the park, or a spritz on a rooftop.
Summer also means that we need to be even more mindful about sun protection, but how much do you really know about the stuff you’re slathering onto your body? Shopping for the right sunscreen can feel a bit complicated, so we figured it was time that we all had a refresher! Here’s what you need to know to read sunscreen labels without total confusion.
What Does the SPF Number Mean?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and the number reflects how protective sunscreen is against UVB radiation. For example, SPF30+ filters out about 96.7% of the UVB rays, meaning about 1/30th gets through. SPF50+ filters out about 98%, or in other words, 1/50th gets through.
SPF is determined based on how long it will take skin to turn red. If unprotected skin turns red in 10 minutes, then SPF50 should protect the skin for 50 times longer.
Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreen
Chemical sunscreen sinks into your skin and includes ingredients that absorb damaging UVA and UVB rays. While chemically-derived sunscreens easily rub into your skin, the synthetic ingredients can sometimes result in allergies and irritation, and many have been linked to coral reef decline.
Physical or mineral sunscreen essential sits on top of your skin, creating a barrier from the sun. The most common ingredient is zinc oxide, which is soothing and used as an anti-irritant, making these sunscreens best suited for people who have sensitive skin or for babies and kids.
Most sunscreens on the market contain a combination of both chemical and physical ingredients.
Active vs. Inactive
Active ingredients are the ones that actually do the UV filtering and protect you from the sun. Inactive ingredients are things like moisturizers that carry the active ingredients, fragrances, and preservatives. Depending on the formula, both active and inactive ingredients can be physical, chemical, or a combination.
Protecting the Reefs
Common commercial sunscreens contain oxybenzone and octinoxate – ingredients that filter out UVA and UVB rays. However, they’ve been found to increase coral bleaching. Even just a drop of oxybenzone can strip a coral of its nutrients and bleach it white, disrupting and damaging other wildlife in the process.
What’s more, your skin easily absorbs these ingredients that then act as a hormone disruptor, making them potentially toxic to our bodies. So it’s best just to steer clear.
Whichever sunscreen you choose, make sure it offers broad-spectrum UV protection with an SPF of 50+. And don’t forget to reapply the formula every at least every two hours.
Our favourite brand that ticks a lot of boxes is We Are Feel Good Inc. Their range of preservative, oxybenzone, PABA, and paraben-free sunscreen is reef safe and 100% Australian made. Tick, tick, and tick!