Sunscreen for Sunny Dundee (med student edition)

The sun has finally graced us and is preparing for summer. I can’t believe that temperatures changed so drastically going from 4 celsius to 15 in just a week ! This kind of weather calls out for  long walks along the riverside, going to beaches  and feeling the warmth.

I am in my dermatology placement in medical school and discovered the importance of sunscreen in our lives. Dundee is known to be a sunny city however it’s nowhere near compared to my home Dubai. Back in the desert you could feel the heat burning you whereas here you only feel the wind coolness during the summer. But this can be dangerous since we don’t realize how the sun rays are destroying our skin.

I am not an expert in dermatology however as a medical student who is interested in this field, I went in depth to find out more about sunscreens and how to get the best one for you.  

Let’s, start with why we should ALWAYS wear sunscreen all year long, no matter your skin colour or tone.

We are all aware of global warming disastrous effects on climate change and how the ozone layer is depleting. This has led to increase in risk of sun damage from harmful UV rays. The UV rays is a form of electromagnetic energy from the nuclear reaction at the sun’s core that travels to the earth. They are classified by the wavelengths – UVA and UVB.

UVA rays go deeper than UVB rays as they have longer wavelength. UVA also known as the ‘sun’s silent killers’ cause premature aging, wrinkles and some skin cancers.They are a larger threat because they account for the 95% rays reaching our skin. If you see daylight from your window, that means the UVA rays are there. They can penetrate through the glass unlike UVB so wear sunscreen even indoors.  

UVB rays have shorter wavelength however are still very powerful as they have higher energy. This means that they damage the DNA in our skin cells directly unlike UVA. In fact, the B in UVB, could stand for burns we get. They cause visible changes on our skin surface like when we get tanned and blisters. UVB rates also cause skin cancers like malignant melanoma.

So which sunscreen should you buy?  

Firstly, there are 2 types of sunscreens available -physical and chemical. When you look at the sunscreen ingredient list and see zinc oxide or titanium dioxide then it is a physical sunscreen that reflect UV rays. These are usually the ones with the white tint that make it feel heavy on the skin. However, they are good for sensitive skin as they are less irritating than the chemical ones. There have been new interesting physical sunscreen ingredients that you can research online.

The chemical blockers absorb UV rays and covert them into heat that are then released by the body. Vobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone are common active ingredients seen in such sunscreens. These are usually water-resistant and are good for swimming. Tend to more wearable especially under makeup as they are of a thinner consistency.  Though, you must remember to apply this type of sunscreen at least 20 minutes before as they take time to become effective.

What to look out for ?

  1. SPF – The number tells you how long the sun’s rays would take to redden your skin when using the product compared to when not using sunscreen. So, according to the American academy of dermatology you should go for a SPFof 30 or more.
  2. See if the sunscreen says broad-spectrum (means that it protects from both UVA and UVB)
  3. Struggling with acne, then make sure to see that its non-comedogenic (doesn’t clog pores). It should be written on the sunscreen.
  4. Preference – Oil-free? Alcohol-free? Paraben-free? Fragrance-free?
  5. Apply a generous amount. Like about one shot glass (2tablespoons) for our face. Do not forget to reapply as sunscreen wears off throughout the day.

Lastly, just because you are putting sunscreen isn’t enough to protect you from the harmful sun rays. Bring a hat, wear sunglasses, and sit in the shade. The bottom line is to stay only for a limited time in the sun. The longer you stay out in daylight, the more exposed you are to risks due to harmful sun rays.

Enjoy Dundee’s amazing summer !

Want to know more ?


Written by:

Hello ! My name is Nidhi. I am an international medic studying at University of Dundee.

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