The ‘we thought of everything’ guide to sunscreen for Indian skin
SPF 100 is, maybe, too much
As a South Asian child, you spend more time being rubbed down with dahi, haldi, chandan and besan to ‘de-tan’ than you will spend learning about the benefits of sunscreen for Indian skin. Growing up in the 90s, sunblock only made an appearance during the summer holidays when we would go swimming. I distinctly remember the sticky white goop streaking my brown skin, turning me into a little Casper the Friendly Ghost cosplayer.
That ghastly white cast is one of the main turn-offs when it comes to investing in a quality sunscreen for Indian skin. But all the Multani mitti in the world can’t undo the damage caused by wanton ultraviolet light penetrating our epidermis and unleashing inflammation. UV rays destroy the underlying collagen matrix, contributing to photo-ageing, discolouration, wrinkles. And the best tool in your arsenal, short of a burkini, is sunscreen.
Here’s everything you need to know to join the SPF cult.
How to choose a sunscreen for Indian skin
What in the world is the white cast?
The whiteness comes from the MVPs of sun protection, Zinc oxide and Titanium dioxide. Mineral or physical sunblocks are safer for the skin and environment than chemical sunscreens which contain endocrine-disrupting ingredients. But you need to find the right formula that isn’t too thick, too heavy and doesn’t sting upon application.
A pro trick is to use a tinted sunscreen for Indian skin like Eau Thermale Avène High Protection Complexion SPF 50+ Correcting Shield, La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Daily Primer or Kiehl’s Actively Correcting & Beautifying BB Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 50. Costly, but will save you those worried stares from your co-workers.
How much re-application is too much?
Dermatologist Dr. Kiran Sethi of Isya Aesthetics recommends we apply about 1-2 tablespoons to effectively protect our face and neck. “The stronger the barrier, the better the sun protection,” she says.
Japanese and Korean skincare companies have mastered the art of good sunscreens. Brands like Biore, Hada Labo, Etude House, Missha, Dear Klairs and Cosrx have great options in a variety of formulas that blend in with ease while giving your skin the safety it needs.
Talking about the frequency of re-application throughout the day, Sethi says, “It should be done no matter what every 4-6 hours. Doesn’t matter where you are. If you are swimming/sweating, then reapply again after the activity.”
Is SPF 100 as good as it gets?
Not exactly. We have sunscreen products ranging from 15 to 100 but Sethi believes that SPF 30-50 is more than enough.
No sunscreen can stop all dangerous radiation from reaching the cells in your body. Higher SPF products are only marginally better at shielding you, according to both the EWG and the Skin Cancer Foundation. SPF 30 blocks nearly 97 per cent of UVB radiation, SPF 50 blocks about 98 per cent, and SPF 100 blocks about per cent.
My make-up has SPF, is that enough?
Is make-up with SPF good? Yes, but is it enough to protect your skin? No.
When cosmetics started including SPF in their formulation, it seemed like a win-win. But like with most 2-in-1 products, it didn’t really work out as we wanted. SPF foundation and primers cannot replace a proper sunscreen. To achieve the SPF written on a label, the amount we need to apply on our face is nowhere close to the amount of make-up product you’d apply in a normal routine.
It’s always safer to apply your sunscreen first and let it sit for a couple of minutes before applying make-up.
What about my Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is crucial for the health of our bones and immune system. People are wary of ‘too much’ sun protection, fearing that it would lead to a Vitamin D deficiency. However, clinical studies have not definitively linked everyday application of sunscreen to a lack of Vitamin D. The explanation being that it’s pretty impossible to block 100% of the sun’s radiation, some of it will reach your skin. Just 10-15 minutes out in direct sunlight is enough time for the rays to trigger your body to produce Vitamin D.
Adding mushrooms and fatty fish like tuna, salmon and mackerel to your diet can provide Vitamin D as well. There’s no reason to skip out on sunscreen, we can agree that protecting yourself from cancer and other sun-related ailments trumps the small likelihood that your Vitamin D levels will drop.
Can’t I just make it myself?
There are some DIY recipes floating around the internet, but homemade sunscreen is never a good idea. There’s a reason that companies invest millions in the formulation of their SPF products. These homemade sunscreens are not broad-spectrum, nor is there any way of ensuring that the sun protection is up to the mark. Some recipes even contain oils which when exposed to heat and light can actually do a lot more harm than good for your skin.
Whether it is ‘edible sunscreen’ like Heliocare and Oscreen, or ingredients like carrot seed oil and coconut oil – nothing can replace the efficacy of topical sunscreen. Sure, these could be used in conjunction but are by no means sufficient on their own.
“They haven’t been tested. How do you know that they work?” asks Sethi.
Stylist: Divya Gursahani; Hair: Krisann Figueiredo; Makeup: Riddhima Sharma; Model: Asu Longkumer/A Little Fly.
On Asu: Dress, Hemant & Nandita.