How crazy is it that you can find a lotion that protects your skin from the sun? Sunscreen has been a must-have for over 80 years, and for good reason. It’s specially made to block any harmful UVA and UVB rays that would otherwise cause you to burn, blister, and wrinkle!
It’s pretty fascinating how this all works. So if you have a few minutes, put on your laboratory coat and let’s get into the science behind sunscreen!
Why Do Humans Get Sunburned?
Humans get sunburned when our skin is overly exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. The outer layer of your skin contains a pigment known as melanin, which gives your skin its color. When you’re exposed to UV light, your body protects itself by increasing the production of melanin, thus causing either a tan, or in some skin types, a burn.
The reason why some people tan and some people burn comes down simply to genetics. Fair-skinned people are more susceptible to burns than darker skin tones. This is because the darker the skin, the more melanocytes are produced, which are the receptors in your skin’s cells that release the melanin.
Still, that isn’t to say you shouldn’t lather on the sunscreen if you naturally tan. UV rays are harmful to everyone and can cause wrinkles, blemishes, age spots, and in the worse cases, skin cancer.
What is the Fitzpatrick Scale?
The Fitzpatrick scale is a system used by dermatologists to see how a person’s skin will react to sun exposure. It is broken down as follows:
Type 1 – Ivory skin that freckles and burns, but doesn’t tan
Type 2 – Fair or pale skin that burns and peels, tans minimally
Type 3 – Fair to beige skin that occasionally burns, sometimes tans
Type 4 – Light brown or olive skin that rarely burns, tans easily
Type 5 – Brown skin that rarely burns, tans easily and darkly
Type 6 – Dark brown or black skin that rarely burns, always tans
Types 1 to 3 are at the greatest risk for sunburn, and the skin typically peels while the burn is healing. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, this is your body’s way of getting rid of dead or damaged skin.
If you do fall into types 1 to 3, you should take extra precautions to protect your skin from the sun. This includes not only applying sunscreen before you go outside, but also wearing a wide-brimmed hat and staying in the shade whenever possible.
Types 4 to 6, meanwhile, should also wear sunscreen when heading outside. Your skin probably won’t peel or flake, but your body can still be damaged from UV rays.
Will Sunscreen Prevent Freckles?
Sunscreen isn’t going to get rid of existing freckles, but it can help slow down the formation of new ones.
Are you curious about how freckles form in the first place? It all comes back to melanin! Freckles are flat tan or brown spots that are visible clusters of skin cells that contain melanin. They fade away over time, and they’re totally harmless to your body!
What Ingredients Are in Sunscreen?
Every sunscreen brand, from Coppertone to Banana Boat, has their own formula they use to create their lotions and sprays. Generally, the best sunscreens will contain a mix of ingredients that are designed to protect against UV rays.
The infographic below shows you all the ingredients that can be in your sunscreen:
Most chemical sunscreens are made using at least two of the following ingredients:
- Octyl Methoxycinnamate
- Octyl Salicylate
- Trolomone Salicylate
- Para-Aminobenzoic Acid (PABA)
- Tinosorb S
- Tinosorb M
- Mexoryl SX
- Retinyl Palmitate
- Padimate O
Mineral sunscreens are also available at most retail stores. These are made with either:
- Zinc Oxide Paste
- Titanium Dioxide
Some sunscreens may also contain additives that help them smell a little more appealing and feel soft on the skin. This could include coconut oil, cocoa butter, fruit extracts, iodine, baby oil, aloe vera, and many other ingredients.
It’s really a matter of preference as to which sunscreen you end up buying. There are people who aren’t really too keen on using chemical-based sunscreens and may want to look for natural or mineral-based options instead. Do your research and find the right sunscreen for you!
How Does Sunscreen Work?
You’re probably wondering how a mix of water, oxybenzone, avobenzone, and other ingredients protects you from the sun. After all, it seems kind of crazy that a lotion is powerful enough to block UV radiation.
It’s time for a little science lesson!
As you can see, the sunscreen will either absorb or reflect the UV rays depending on if it’s made with chemicals or minerals. Most chemical sunscreens contain two important ingredients:
#1: Oxybenzone – a molecule that absorbs all the energy coming from UVB rays
#2: Avobenzone – a molecule that absorbs all the energy coming from UVA rays
Mineral sunscreens, on the other hand, will cause the UV light to reflect away from your skin. They typically contain an ingredient known as zinc oxide, which will essentially scatter the UV rays in a different direction so they never come in contact with your exposed skin.
How Does Sunscreen Protect from UV Rays?
UVA and UVB rays are types of waves on the electromagnetic spectrum, which is a scale used to measure radiation. These waves aren’t visible to the human eye, but contain a ton of energy that can be harmful to our bodies.
The difference between UVA and UVB rays is shown below:
UVA rays are also known as “aging rays” because they may cause you to wrinkle or for age spots to form on your skin. These rays pass through your skin’s outer layer and penetrate even deeper, which could cause more long-term damage. Keep in mind, UVA rays are able to pass through windows, which is why you should wear sunscreen in the car and even indoors on a hot summer’s day.
UVB rays are also known as “burning rays” because they cause sunburns. They’re a lot more harmful than UVA rays and will cause an inflammatory response in your skin, which makes your skin turn red when it burns. The “SPF” label on sunscreen will tell you what fraction of UVB rays your skin will be protected from, so make sure to look before you buy.
Sunscreen with “broad spectrum” on the label will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. This is why it’s so important to cover every inch of your body. If you miss a spot when applying, the UV rays will be able to reach that area and cause it to burn.
Purify the Water
Water is purified in a process known as reverse osmosis. This is when the water is stripped down to its purest form and removed of any salt or particles. The water is a necessary part of the sunscreen formula as it helps dilute the harsh chemicals and other ingredients found in each bottle.
Mix in the Ingredients
The ingredients used in the sunscreen formula are mixed with the purified water. This mixture can be as small enough to fill a 1 ounce bottle, or as large as a full gallon (128 ounces). However, most sunscreens fill bottles that are somewhere between 6 and 12 ounces. Each sunscreen brand uses their own formula, so the ingredients will vary.
Form the Bottle
A process known as blow molding is used to create the sunscreen bottles. Plastic is heated so it’s in a soft form and then placed into a mold. From there, compressed air is blown through the top of the mold, causing the plastic to expand and form into a 3D container. When the plastic is cooled, it will harden and the bottle will be complete.
Print the Logo
Each bottle is printed with the sunscreen brand’s trademark logo – the yellow half sunset with the leaves for Banana Boat, the girl and the dog for Coppertone, the palm tree and flowers for Hawaiian Tropic, and so on. This logo is digitally printed, pad printed, or embossed on each bottle.
Fill the Bottle
Stainless steel tanks full of the sunscreen solution are used to fill each bottle. The bottles are placed on a conveyor belt and automated machines go about squeezing a measured amount of solution into each bottle and fitting them with a cap.
Ship to Stores
Once the sunscreen bottles are filled and capped, they’re all ready to go! The final step is getting them packaged in boxes and shipped to stores.
What is the Best Type of Sunscreen?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the best type of sunscreen is one that’s classified as SPF 15 or higher and also has “broad spectrum” on the label. This power combo helps protect your skin from a majority of UVA and UVB rays.
In 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed the following regulations for sunscreen:
- Any sunscreen that’s labelled as SPF 15 or higher must now also be broad spectrum.
- Sprays, oils, lotions, creams, gels, butters, pastes, ointments, and sticks are all safe and effective. Research is still being done for sunscreen powders.
- The maximum SPF rating that a sunscreen can have is 60 rather than the previous 50+.
- Manufacturers are not allowed to use aminobenzoic acid (PABA) or trolamine salicylate in their formulas as they are deemed not safe for human use.
- A list of ingredients must be printed alphabetically on the front of the bottle.
- “SPF,” “broad spectrum,” and “water resistant” labels must all stand out on the bottle and be easy to read.
- Sunscreen can no longer include an insect repellant.
The FDA has put these regulations in place to help with your sunscreen shopping. With the FDA regulating all sunscreen, you will always get a lotion or spray that keeps your skin safe from harm if it’s applied correctly.
Are Sunscreens Toxic?
It is difficult to say whether or not sunscreen is toxic to your system. In 2019, the Journal of the American Medical Association, a peer-reviewed medical publication, researched a variety of chemicals used in sunscreens. They found that certain ingredients may seep into your bloodstream after a day of use.
That may sound alarming, but it’s important to keep in mind that research is still being done on sunscreen. In fact, the FDA notes that you should by no means stop using sunscreens as “just because they’re absorbed, doesn’t mean they’re unsafe.”
Be sure to keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to sunscreen regulations. It’s your job as a consumer to make sure you’re making the best choices for your health and protection.
What Are the Benefits of Sunscreen?
Sunscreen is the ultimate protector when it comes to shielding your skin. You should always wear a protective SPF 15, broad spectrum lotion when you’re heading out on a sunny day for a number of good reasons.
Here are all the benefits of wearing sunscreen:
Your skin is protected
UVA and UVB rays are extremely powerful and damaging. A broad spectrum sunscreen on every inch of your body helps ensure that this radiation won’t touch your skin.
Keeps you looking young
The sun’s rays are known to increase the rate of aging. Your skin will be less prone to wrinkles, moles, and age spots if you always wear a good sunscreen.
Acts as a moisturizer
Your skin can get super dry when you’re outside during the summer. This is especially true if you’re in and out of the pool, or the water at the beach. Luckily, sunscreen acts as a good moisturizer for your skin.
Protects from heat stroke & exhaustion
Few people know that sunscreen can also protect you from heat stroke or heat exhaustion. You can also prevent these afflictions by drinking plenty of water and spending as much time in the shade as possible.
Decreases acne & blemishes
Are you prone to breakouts? A sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher can help you avoid blotchiness, or the eruption of red veins on your face.
The Bottom Line
You can’t go wrong having sunscreen in your bathroom cabinet. When the sun is shining, it’s your best defense against damaging UV rays. Grab the right lotion or spray for you, and make sure you apply from head to toe!
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