The best sunscreen for you, how to apply spray and lotion properly, and products the experts recommend

Sunscreen is important all year round and applying it daily is the best defence against signs of premature ageing.

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 September, 2018, 12:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 September, 2018, 5:55pm

Just because the summer months are about to end, it doesn’t mean we’ll be done with summer weather any time soon – why else would junk trip season in Hong Kong last so long?

It’s easy to forget about basic self-care when you’re having fun, but you should never underestimate the importance of sun protection, no matter what time of year it is.

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This is particularly true for those with less melanin in their skin. Not only is habitual sun protection going to save your skin in the long run from burning, peeling, freckling and – worst case scenario – skin cancer, but applying sunscreen daily is your best defence against signs of premature ageing.

Even in dense urban jungles such as Hong Kong, every preventive measure can help. We talk to Dr Carmen Lam, a specialist in dermatology at Skincentral, a clinic in the city’s Central district, for tips and advice on protection so you can continue to have fun in the sun – safely.

Physical or chemical sunscreens?

Lam explains that physical sunscreens contain mineral compounds such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and work by reflecting and scattering UV rays, acting like a shield to protect skin from UV damage.

Older physical sunscreens can be heavy and greasy, which put a lot of people off using sunscreen all together. A lot of newer formulas, however, are less opaque and more suitable for wearing under make-up. Physical sunscreens are also the best option for those with sensitive skin types.

Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays, rather than reflect them, and turn them into heat. Lam explains that chemical sunscreens contain organic agents such as octinoxate, benzophenones, oxybenzone and avobenzone.

“In general, they are less greasy and more cosmetically accepted, but they can cause irritation more than the physical ones,” she says.

Spray or slather?

Because of the heavier texture of some sunscreens, newer products available as sprays have become very popular. Lam assures that they are both equally effective in protecting against the sun, as long as their formulas offer the same degree of SPF and spectrum protection.

Where people sometimes go wrong, however, is with the application of spray sunscreen, applying it unevenly over the skin.

Don’t forget your hairline, ears, around your eyes and around your mouth
Carmen Lam

Lam suggests always rubbing it into your skin afterwards to ensure even coverage. She also says to spray in an open area or somewhere with good ventilation to avoid inhaling the product.

Also, “do not spray it onto your face as it may increase the risk of ingestion”, she warns. “If you do need it on your face, spray it onto your palms first, and then apply it evenly to the face.”

Less is not more

Sunscreen should always be applied liberally to all exposed skin, but Lam says people often don’t use enough.

“Follow the ‘teaspoon rule’,” she suggests. That’s one teaspoon for the face and neck (don’t forget the back of your neck), one teaspoon each for the front and back of your torso, one teaspoon for each arm, and two teaspoons each for each leg. “And don’t forget your hairline, ears, around your eyes and around your mouth.”

Lam recommends applying the first layer of sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before you head outside. You should reapply every two hours, whatever your day is looking like. If you’re going to the beach or on a boat, you should reapply every time you get out of the water, or if you may have sweated off some of the product.

Finally, make sure you clean your skin thoroughly at the end of the day. Applying several layers of sunscreen can clog your pores just as much as make-up. Treat it as such, and use a make-up remover followed by a gentle cleanser to remove any sunscreen residue from your face, and consider a loofah for your body. It also won’t hurt to use a gentle exfoliator on your face twice a week.

Here are some sunscreens for every budget:

By Terry UV Base (HK$480 / 30ml)

BareMinerals Prep Step Daily Prep Lotion SPF50 (HK$280 / 30ml)

Beauty Hills Sun Shield Face Spray SPF 50 (HK$180 / 30ml)

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Kiehl’s Dermatologist Solutions Ultra Light Daily UV Defence SPF50 (HK$325 / 30ml) 

Tatcha Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35 (HK$580 / 60ml)