Best Sunscreens for Your Skin when Traveling

Best Sunscreens for Your Skin when Traveling
Photo by Antonio Gabola / Unsplash

Sunscreen is vital when traveling because it protects against harmful UV rays, preventing sunburn, maintaining skin health, reducing the risk of skin cancer, and slowing down premature aging. Additionally, it helps prevent uneven skin tone, preserves tattoo vibrancy, and provides year-round protection against UV radiation. Regular application and reapplication are essential, particularly during outdoor activities.

It’s 2023 and I don’t need to keep telling you how important sunscreen is for your skin health. But, in case you didn’t already know, wear your sunscreen. Let’s start there.  

To sun or not to sun 

While our skin needs and deserves a lot of love from the sun, it does come with its risks. The sun can expose you to UV rays and its harmful effects. 

UVA rays penetrate deep into your skin and cause long-term damage and even cellular changes. UVB, the lesser evil of the two, causes sunburn and inflammation. There’s also the shorter wavelength UVC which accounts for less than 1% of UV rays that reach the Earth’s surface. (1)

Well then, should you do without the sun? Absolutely not. We should aim for at least 30 minutes of sun every day to maintain good blood levels. People with darker skin tones should aim for more sun exposure for equivalent vitamin D photosynthesis. (2) 

Research shows that insufficiency in vitamin D contributes to many major illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes. It can also mess up people’s metabolisms and cause cardiovascular diseases. (3) 

Why risk all that when walking outdoors or soaking up the sun is a much better alternative? 

Do sunscreens really work? 

Absolutely. Experimental studies in the 1980s of 1621 participants over 15 years showed that people who used sunscreen daily showed a significantly reduced risk of invasive melanoma.

Another study shows a significantly reduced rate of development of actinic keratoses, squamous cell carcinomas, and basal cell carcinomas.

Who should use it? 

Sunscreens with at least SPF 30 or above should be used by people of all skin types and tones. It is not recommended for children under 6 months because of the risk of absorption of sunscreen ingredients. 

Sunscreen must be applied on all exposed body parts especially by fair skin tones since research shows skin cancers are far more prevalent in such individuals. But just because you have medium to dark skin does not mean you can skip it.  

Types of sunscreen 

Now that we’re all convinced of the efficacy of sunscreen and will never ever leave our house without applying some, let’s talk about what kind of sunscreen works best for your skin type.  

There are two available variants of sunscreens: physical and chemical. Both are incredible at blocking UV rays and protecting your skin, but there are a few differences. 

Physical sunscreen: 

Physical or mineral sunscreens create a layer on top of the skin and act as a physical blocker of UV rays. The physical barrier protects your skin from UVA and UVB rays. 

These sunscreen filters usually comprise natural minerals, i.e., zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and can reflect or refract UV rays from the skin. Mineral sunscreens are effective immediately after applying because of the physical barrier. So, users need not wait a few minutes before heading out. 

Physical sunscreens usually have a white cast and are typically visible. The white cast is worse on people with medium to dark skin tones, who might find blending it is a nightmare. 

Makeup wearers may feel that applying makeup on top of the mineral sunscreen results in patchy-looking skin. This is, again, because of its overall texture. Since it sits on top of your face, physical sunscreens tend to rub off when you sweat or get wet. Reapplication frequently is necessary for it to do its work. 

However, mineral sunscreens are a boon to people with sensitive or acne-prone skin. It is less likely to irritate people with skin issues such as eczema, rosacea, or melasma. Dermatologists prefer mineral sunscreens to chemical ones because they don't have negative health effects and are safe for children. 

Chemical sunscreen: 

Chemical sunscreens absorb into your skin instead of creating a physical barrier. They contain ingredients that absorb the UV rays and converts the ray into heat, eventually releasing them from the body. Regardless, chemical sunscreens may not block all UVA rays that can be harmful in the long term. 

Active ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene, octisalate, octinoxate, and homosalate are common in chemical sunscreens. Since these ingredients are absorbed by your skin first, you must wait at least twenty minutes after applying the sunblock to step out into the sun. 

Chemical sunscreens have much better blend-ability and do not leave a white cast. People with medium and dark skin tones may find this option much better than its counterpart. Also, applying makeup is easy and smooth over a chemical sunscreen. It is more sweat and water-resistant, making it a better choice for people in humid areas.

However, the ingredients in these formulations can be counterproductive for people with sensitive and acne-prone skin. Since the UV rays are released from the body, people with rosacea or eczema may find it problematic. 

The FDA has flagged some ingredients in chemical sunscreens as being unsafe. Oxybenzone has been linked to poor sperm quality and endometriosis, which makes it a health risk for pregnant women. It has also been attributed to environmental harm and coral bleaching. 

Some research has also shown that the ingredients tend to sit in the bloodstream even after washing off. 

So, which one do you choose? 

Mineral sunscreens are better for the environment and your skin, no doubt. People with normal to problematic skin benefit from this sunblock that does not irritate. 

Thanks to advancements in pharma, mineral sunscreens have come a long way, and you may find a tinted sunscreen that works for your skin tone. So, you won't have to worry about the white cast.  

However, if you need sunscreen with a light texture that blends perfectly under your makeup, if you swim or sweat a lot or live in an overall humid climate, opt for a chemical sunscreen.  

The key point is to opt for a sunblock of your choice and apply it liberally every day. 

How much sunscreen do you need? 

Most people tend to underapply sunscreens, thus reducing its efficacy. ‘Apply generously’ is usually printed on the label, which can mean different things to different people. 

Dermatologists recommend using 1/4th or 1/3rd of a teaspoon on the face. That would roughly translate to an ounce of sunscreen or 1.25 ml of liquid sunscreen. 

You must have come across the three-finger rule where you apply sunscreen on your index, middle, and ring finger first. Then, apply it on your face and neck. And do not forget to reapply your sunscreen every two hours. 

In conclusion, the importance of sunscreen cannot be overstated when traveling or simply spending time outdoors. It provides vital protection against harmful UV rays, preventing sunburn, maintaining skin health, and reducing the risk of skin cancer and premature aging. Additionally, sunscreen helps prevent uneven skin tone, preserves tattoo vibrancy, and offers year-round protection against UV radiation. Whether opting for physical or chemical sunscreen, it's crucial to apply it generously and reapply regularly to ensure effective protection. With the multitude of options available, finding the right sunscreen for your skin type and preferences is key to maintaining healthy and protected skin. So, in the spirit of prioritizing skin health, remember to wear your sunscreen whenever stepping out into the sun.