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All You Need to Know About Sunscreen

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When it comes to sunscreen, how much do you know? How do you go about choosing the best and most protective? What is SPF and how much sunscreen should you apply?

We explain all these and more for your sun protection, no matter the season.


How do sunscreens work?
Sunscreens work to protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays using chemical or mineral filters, or a combination of both. Chemical filters, like avobenzone or oxybenzone, absorb UV rays and break them down, releasing them as heat. Mineral filters, on the other hand, do not react with UV rays, instead forming a physical barrier on the skin, reflecting and scattering the light. They usually come in the form of mineral-based titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.1


Sunlight consists of UVA and UVB rays. (There is also UVC radiation but it does not enter our atmosphere.) UVB radiation is shorter in range, only reaching the skin’s surface and is associated with effects such as tanning and sunburn. It is also known to increase the risk of some skin cancers.2

UVA rays being longer in range, penetrate deeper into the skin and is associated with symptoms that aren’t immediately apparent, sometimes taking years to surface. These are effects such as premature aging, wrinkling and dark spots. UVA radiation, like UVB, also increases the risk of skin cancer. 3

What is SPF?
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a measure of the sunscreen’s ability to protect the skin from UVB damage. Here’s how it works: however long it usually takes for you to turn red from the sun, an SPF 30 sunscreen would prevent the reddening for 30 times longer. Therefore, if it usually takes 20 minutes of sun exposure before you turn red, it would theoretically, provide you with 20 x 30 = 600 minutes of UVB protection.4

What SPF should I use?
This depends on each individual’s skin type. People with naturally darker skin tend to require lower SPF rating.5 Nonetheless, it is generally advised to wear sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher. S
PF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97%, SPF 50 sunscreens about 98%, and SPF 100 about 99%. No product provides you with 100% protection from UV rays.6


Photo by Ciprian Boiciuc on Unsplash

What about UVA protection?
The measure and indicator for UVA protection differ across markets. In fact, many sunscreens still do not offer protection against UVA rays. In general, you want to look for products that indicate Broad Spectrum protection, this means it shields you from both UVA and UVB radiation.7

Banyan Tree Essentials uses the PA (Protection Grade of UVA) rating for UVA protection, a system developed in Japan and widely adopted by Asian brands. It features plus signs (ranging from one to four) to indicate the level of UVA protection provided. More plus signs denote higher levels of UVA protection.

What else should I consider?
Some chemicals in sunscreens have been found to have negative health and environmental effects. Oxybenzone, though an effective chemical filter, could cause skin irritation and allergies for people with sensitive skin. It has also been linked to hormone disruption in children and adults.8

Chemical filters have also been found to contribute to coral bleaching, with the Hawaiian government recently banning sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, in a bid to protect its oceans.9 For reef-safe options, look for sunscreens with only mineral UV filters (usually non-nano titanium dioxide or zinc oxide). Other than being natural and gentler on the skin, mineral filters also do not cause reactions in corals, merely settling as part of the ocean floor sediments when washed into the sea.

How much sunscreen should I use?
According to research studies, we wear less sunscreen than is required. Dermatologists recommend the amount of a shot-glass for the entire body, and one to two tablespoons for just the face. It is also recommended to reapply your sunscreen every two hours, even if wearing sunscreen that boasts “extended wear” features.10

Water-resistant sunscreen is also not water-proof. If you’ve gone into the water, apply sunscreen again, as a precaution.

Other sun protection tips
Even though sunscreen application is a vital part of your sun care regime, you can't rely on it alone to protect you from the sun. It is generally advisable to stay out of the sun from 12pm to 4pm, when its rays are harshest, or wear a hat and sunglasses. If you have a family history of photo-sensitive skin, ditch the tanning beds and stay in the shade as much as possible. (You can obtain Vitamin D from many vegetables.)

If needed, cover up with long-sleeved or UV-protection clothing.

Our Coconut and Seaweed Sunscreen (SPF 50 PA ++++) is oxybenzone-free and provides broad spectrum protection from both UV-A and UV-B rays. A 100% mineral-based sunscreen is currently in the works, to be launched in 2019. Stay tuned.

For more summer wellness tips, refer to our Conscious Summer Guide.


  1. How does sunscreen work? —
  2. UVA & UVB —
  3. UVA & UVB —
  4. Sunscreens Explained —
  5. How do I choose the right sunscreen and SPF for me? —
  6. UK heatwave: How does sunscreen work? —
  7. Choose the right sunscreen —
  8. The Trouble with Ingredients in Sunscreens —
  9. Hawaii to ban certain sunscreens harmful to coral reefs —
  10. UK heatwave: How does sunscreen work? —


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