How to choose the right sunscreen?

Sunscreen is very important nowadays, not just because it’s summer or if you live in a tropical country like me where it’s always “summer” whole year round but because we don’t want premature skin aging or the worst scenario: skin cancer. There are so many sunscreen products over the counter or displayed on the shelf, but what exactly should you buy?

There are 2 types of sunscreen, physical and chemical sunscreen. Physical sunscreen or mineral sunscreen protects you by reflecting back on the UV rays. Physical sunscreens that you should look in the ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Chemical sunscreen, on the other hand, absorbs the UV rays and then once full it either turns to another chemical or heat that may harm the environment or your self, though there is no scientific evidence or claim about the danger of the chemical reaction yet. Ingredients that you need to look in chemical sunscreen are oxybenzoneavobenzoneoctisalateoctocrylenehomosalate, and octinoxate. Sometimes companies make a complex/simplified variation of it to intensify, keep it long-lasting, or to complement other ingredients so those above mentioned may not that obvious so watch for ingredients that have “-oxy-” or “-ox-“, “-oz-” or “-zo-“, “-oc-“, “-one” as they are chemical compound that has trioxygen or ozone ( O3 ) an example is Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane ( C20H22O3 ) also known as Avobenzone.

Quick History

Before we dive in, let us take a little skim in the memory lane of sunscreen and thank the people behind this product that we are using today.

  • Develop Sunscreen (1936)

    The founder of L’Oreal, Eugene Schueller, a chemist, developed a sunscreen formula.

  • First sunscreen with SPF rating (1938)

    The first big sunscreen product that had a sun protection factor (SPF) of two was invented in 1938 by Australian chemist Franz Greiter and it was called “Gletscher Crème” or “Glacier Cream”.

  • SPF Rating (1962)

    Franz Greiter also invented the SPF rating in 1962.

  • Water-resistant sunscreen (1977)

    Companies were starting to develop water-resistant sunscreen. Focus on longer-lasting protection as well as broader spectrum.

  • US FDA adopted the SPF rating (1978)

    U.S. Food and Drug Administration adopted the SPF calculation in 1978

  • First UVA/UVB sunscreen (1980)

    In 1980, Coppertone developed the first UVA/UVB sunscreen, which protects skin from both long- and short-wave UV rays.

  • US FDA issued a set of comprehensive rules (June 2011)

    US FDA issued a set of comprehensive rules to help consumers identify suitable sunscreen products. ( 21 USC CHAPTER 9, SUBCHAPTER V, Part I: Nonprescription Sunscreen and Other Active Ingredients )

Citation for the above timeline: Bellis, Mary. “A History of Sunscreen.” ThoughtCo, Nov. 23, 2019,

What is SPF?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, a rating or measurement of the sunscreen’s ability to protect the skin from UVB rays. By multiplying the SPF factor by the length of time it takes for the person to suffer a burn without sunscreen. So, if you buy a sunscreen with SPF 10 and you know that it takes 10minutes for your skin to get a sunburn if you don’t have sunscreen applied thus the sunscreen you bought can extend your protection up to 100 minutes before you get a sunburn (assuming you don’t sweat or you don’t wipe the lotion off your skin).

10minutes X 10SPF =100 minutes protection

The SPF is only a rough estimate because it still depends on your skin types, sunlight intensity, and amount of sunscreen applied. Applying the proper amount of 2mg/cm2 of the skin or about one ounce (6 teaspoons) for full-body coverage and reapply every 2 hours. If you under-apply sunscreens, for example, ¼ to ½ the amount required then a half application of an SPF 30 sunscreen only provides the square root of the SPF thus it only provides an effective SPF of 5.5!

SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays while SPF 30 blocks 97% and SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays. Therefore the high SPF does not really offer significant protection than SPF 30.

What is PA followed by plus signs?

PA+ and more + means Protection grade against UVA rays. PA is a Japanese ranking for sun protection which is now widely used. This is based on Persistent Pigment Darkening reaction reading at 2 to 4 hours of sun exposure.

PA+ means the sunscreen has some UVA protection while PA++ provides moderate protection, and PA+++ has high UVA protection, then the PA ++++ provides extremely high UVA protection. PA rating is still not the gold-standard and still inconsistent due to our skin’s differences. Some people get darker fast while others take longer to tan. PA rating is not related to time unlike SPF therefore no one knows how long a sunscreen with PA rating can protect you from UVA.

UVB and UVA, what are they?

UVA, UVB, and UVC are electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength from 10 nm to 400 nm from sun rays that affect the health of our skin. Only UVA and UVB penetrate to Earth’s surface while most UVC is absorbed by the ozone layer.

I don't need no stinkin sunscreen!!!
photo by gstreetphotos

UVA wavelength is 315 to 400nm and this ultraviolet beside burning can cause skin aging to skin cancer as it penetrates the skin cells. UVA is an invisible ray of the sun which accounts for 95% of UV radiation reaching the Earth and maintains the same level of strength during daylight hours. Because it has a high wavelength it can penetrate windows and clouds. This is the cause of tanning in your skin.

UVB wavelength is 280 to 315nm and this ultraviolet is the main cause of sunburn and blistering. Unlike UVA the UVB’s intensity fluctuates, the strongest and poses the highest risk starts from 9 AM to 4 PM here in the Philippines. UVB is also intense in high altitudes or on reflective surfaces like snow or ice. UVB is the visible light that can be blocked by your sunscreen’s SPF or glass.


Just a disclaimer, I am not an expert but based on the above research what I could recommend for a sunscreen that you would choose is the Physical sunscreen. Physical sunscreen protects you for both UVA and UVB rays as it reflects the radiation and somehow longer-lasting. Choose the sunscreen with a minimum of SPF of 30 and PA ++++ rating for broad protection and at the same time economically acceptable. The only caveat for physical sunscreen is it leaves a white cast on your skin which is very unpleasant to look at especially if you are naturally brown. Physical sunscreen is perfect if you are at the beach or doing activities that require long exposure outside.

Chemical sunscreen can be your everyday sunscreen provided that you don’t stay more than 30 minutes of exposure. This is perfect for everyday use because it does not leave you an intense white cast on your skin and can be easily concealed by powder, foundation, or CC cream. Just make sure to reapply every 2 hours and apply as long as you’re exposed to light (sunlight is not the only source of light).

Personally, I have a sunscreen for my face and another for my body. For my face, I use L’Oreal UV Perfect or Bioré UV Aqua Rich while for my body I use Nivea Extra White Serum. During summer I use either GT Papaya Lotion or Banana Boat.

L’Oreal UV Perfect has SPF50 and PA++++ and claims to have advance 12hours UV protection. It has Ecamsule (tradename Mexoryl) known for its excellent photostability. Sunscreens containing ecamsule are exclusive to L’Oréal and its brands. L’Oreal UV Perfect is both chemical and physical sunscreen.

Because L’Oreal UV Perfect is expensive (30ml is around Php550) and difficult to find here in Cebu so an alternative is Bioré UV Aqua Rich. A Japanese sunscreen made by Kao Corporation that has an SPF of 50 and PA++++. I like this one because it’s light and similar consistency with L’Oreal’s. By the way, both leave a little white cast and oily feeling and look though manageable by applying powder.

For daily body sunscreen, I use Nivea Extra White Serum because it has SPF33 and PA+++ rating. It is also light to the skin and does not leave a white cast. For the 200ml tube, it cost around Php300 in Watsons pharmacy.

GT Papaya Lotion is a budget-friendly sunscreen and made in the Philippines. This sunscreen is a physical sunscreen with SPF 40. Even it does not have a PA rating, as mentioned above in my recommendation that physical sunscreen is the best as it reflects rays instead of absorbing it. Since I have a fair complexion this also complements me and creates a brightening effect on my skin (because again it reflects light).

If the activity requires dipping in water then the Banana Boat that has SPF50 and PA++++ is what I use because it is water-resistant. This is a chemical sunscreen so I apply this 20 minutes prior to sun exposure and despite its water-resistant feature I still need to reapply after swimming or towel since the activity might wipe off the sunscreen.

Author: Gino Pena

Usually confident and calm, Gino is dynamic, intuitive, and a little grain of shyness. He has a keen active mind that is capable of planning ahead and fast decisions. He tends to give out honest helpful advice in a friendly manner. Gino likes to dress smartly in clothes he feels comfortable. Ambitious but not overly so and can be generous to those he loves.