The Right Factor

You wake up to his warmth in the morning, start your day with his smiles, avoid his anger at noon, play hide and seek with him throughout the day, and when you are fed up with his mood swings and give him that angry look, he parts ways in the twilight, calm and composed, like nothing ever happened, with a self satisfied smile that says “I’ll be back tomorrow!” Pleasant, irritable, warm, loving, angry, playful and sometimes murderous; it all depends on the sun’s mood, doesn’t it?

You tell yourself, “I’ll put an end to this today!” and head to the nearest cosmetic store in search of something that would put an end to all your worries- The Sunscreen. How I wish it was as simple as “Walk in, pick it up, pay for it and leave”. That’s not possible. Not with so many brands, with their myriad products and varieties of sunscreens, with something called “SPF” written on them ranging from 2 to 200 baffling you!

For the Geeks

As we all know, Ultra Violet (UV) radiation is found in sunlight. The UV rays are split into UVA, UVB and UVC depending on their wavelength. Three different wavelengths competing to catch your skin off guard! That’s when nature takes pity on us and gives us one thing less to worry about. While UVC is absorbed by the atmosphere, UVB is responsible for causing sunburn. Most sunscreens block UVB, but only broad spectrum sunscreens can block UVA, though not completely. It has been found that UVB does not penetrate through glass but glass is not enough to guard you against UVA. The effects of UVA may not be immediately visible. It causes the skin to age prematurely, damages the DNA and along with UVB causes the most common types of skin cancer.

Again, as we all know, sun is a rich source of Vitamin D. We derive almost 90% of Vitamin D from UV rays. It helps in increasing the metabolic rate, strengthens bones and teeth, protects against multiple sclerosis, various forms of cancer and many other diseases. Deficiency of this could lead to rickets or osteoporosis. . Vitamin-D is naturally found in very few food items, and for vegetarians that option is almost negligible. Of course, there are food supplements today for almost everything. But there is nothing like doing it the natural way! That apart, we always associate ‘sunshine’ with ‘warmth’ and ‘pleasantness’. It does lift up our mood sometimes, doesn’t it? So, is the sun good or bad for your skin?

The answer is simple. It’s both.

For the inquisitive

They say, it all started,when Franz Greiter, a young chemistry student, suffered severe sunburns while climbing Piz Buin. It inspired him to invent the first sunscreen lotion in the late 1930s. He coined the term “Sun Protection Factor (SPF)”, a laboratory measure of effectiveness of sunscreen. It’s simple. If x amount of time is required to cause sunburn on normal skin and 2x amount of time is required to cause sunburn after applying sunscreen, the SPF is 2. Since then such creams have evolved to be more efficient.
Having defined SPF, does it mean a cream with SPF 100 is 100 times more efficient? Surprisingly, the answer is no. An article published in WebMD quotes Florida dermatologist and American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) spokesman James M. Spencer, MD as saying “It is logical for someone to think that an SPF of 30 is twice as good as an SPF of 15, and so on, but that is not how it works. An SPF 15 product blocks about 94% of UVB rays, an SPF 30 product blocks 97% of UVB rays, and an SPF 45 product blocks about 98% of rays. After that, it just gets silly,” he says.


Make sure you get a wide spectrum sunscreen that can be effective against both UVA and UVB. Consult your dermatologist, as you must keep in mind your skin type and complexion before selecting the right sunscreen. The most widely recommended are SPF 15 and SPF 30. You must have figured by now that claims of “all day protection” are unrealistic. You need to reapply the cream frequently, depending on what activities you indulge in (like swimming) and how much you perspire. Apply 20-10 minutes before sun exposure, for it takes that much time for the skin to absorb it.

Then again, there are recent studies which reveal that certain chemicals in leading sunscreens led to skin issues when tested on animals. Instead of totally relying on cosmetics for protection, take the necessary precautions. Wear appropriate clothing and rehydrate yourself frequently. Avoid getting exposed when the sun is at its peak. Vitamin-D is fat soluble. This means, a good 10-15 minutes in the sun is enough for your skin to get the required amount of Vitamin-D, which then gets dissolved in body fat.

If you know how to protect your skin, dodging the sun is simple and fun!

Deepashri Varadarajan