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How Does Sunscreen Work? Plus, 3 Sustainable Options to Try

Summer has a ton of happy characteristics—warm weather, bright sunshine, longer days, shorts, sun dresses, outdoor experiences, and more. But there’s one sneaky thing that can ruin all your summer fun if you aren’t careful… Sunburn.

Whatever your plans are this summer, don’t do them without sunscreen! The UK might not be known for its blistering heat, but even mild sun can do damage. Here’s the lowdown on sunscreen, how to wear it, and 3 great brands we recommend.

When Should You Apply Sunscreen?

According to SinCancer.org, you should be wearing sunscreen every day! Even if you just pop out to the store quickly, you’re exposing yourself to the sun’s rays, so it’s best practice to never be unprotected.

You need protection on overcast days too. While there might not be sunlight breaking through the clouds, the invisible UV rays are still reaching you, and those are the dangerous ones!

Apply sunscreen (or an SPF-protective product) every day, about 30 minutes before you head outside. This gives the sunscreen time to bind to your skin and give it the shielding it really needs from the rays.

Reapply a light layer every few hours, or immediately after a swim, washing your face, or a bout of heavy sweating.

How Does Sunscreen Work?

Ever thought about exactly how this miracle sun protector does its job? Interestingly, it depends on what kind of sunscreen you choose: mineral or chemical.

How Mineral Sunscreen Works

Sometimes also called physical sunscreen, mineral sunscreen contains mineral ingredients that either block or reflect the sun’s rays before they hit your skin. These types of sunscreen are designed to form a layer on top of the skin, rather than being absorbed. They work against both UVA and UVB rays.

How Chemical Sunscreen Works

Chemical sunscreens contain organic chemical ingredients that absorb the rays of the sun rather than reflecting them. Basically, once these rays are absorbed into the chemical compound, they’re transformed into heat, which then leaves the skin. It’s important to note that these types of sunscreen only work against either UVA or UVB rays, not both!

Which Comes First, Moisturiser or Sunscreen?

Your sunscreen should always be the last part of your skincare routine, unless you’re using a chemical sunscreen (in which case your moisturiser will go on last).

Apply it over your makeup, carefully. Or, you can mix it with your foundation, but it can take some time to get the right combination so you don’t look like a ghost. Remember, you also need to reapply it throughout the day, so it makes sense that it would be the last layer you add.

As for makeup with SPF built into it… Well, we advise still adding your own sunscreen on top of it, because in order to get enough protection, you’d need to use a lot more foundation than usual.

By the way, it’s good to know that if you layer an SPF-30 sunscreen on top of an SPF-20 foundation, it doesn’t mean you’re not SPF-50 protected! You’re still only as protected as your strongest sunscreen.

How to Choose the Right Sunscreen

How do you know whether to choose mineral or chemical sunscreen? Here are the pros and cons of each to help you choose the right one! Remember, both need to be applied about 30 minutes before leaving the house.

Mineral Sunscreen

Broad spectrum skin protection.

Not absorbed, so less likely to irritate your skin.

Most are non-comedogenic, so not likely to clog the pores.


✘ Thicker and may leave a white residue

✘ Tends to rub off more easily

Chemical Sunscreen

Thinner and easier to rub in

Absorbs into the skin, leaving little to no residue


✘ Chemicals may irritate the skin and eyes

✘ Most only protect against one type of UV ray

✘ May increase heat and cause redness

3 Sustainable Sunscreen Brands to Try

UpCircle SPF25 Mineral Sunscreen

Light, eco-friendly, and very blendable. Plus, send the glass back and get a refill instead of buying a new one!

Malin + Goetz SPF30 Sunscreen High Protection

Exceptionally hydrating, as well as being protective. Excellent for dry skin, and reef-friendly.

Cotz Sensitive SPF40

Formulated for sensitive skin, non-tinted, moisturising, broad spectrum protection, water-resistant for up to 40 minutes, and reef-friendly


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