The Power of SPF

It's Spring and this is the season for brightening & whitening. However, no skin brightening skin care regime is complete without sunblock.

Studies have shown that, when it comes to fighting wrinkles, sunscreen is the most potent weapon, more powerful than Retin-A and antioxidants alone. However, the one universal truth about sunscreen is that nobody likes wearing it even though we know it helps in the prevention of skin cancer as well as the aging effects of the sun. Before I start to rave about my favorite SPF products, here's a little summary about SPF that I think everyone should know about.

For people who are totally clueless: 

There are two kinds of sunscreens in the market. One form is a chemical blocker whereas the other is a physical blocker.


A chemical blocker works mainly by absorbing UV light. Most are synthetic chemicals that are soluble in oil and/or water. 

  • Some common properties of a chemical blocker include its lightweight formula, non-comedegenic properties. 
  • Chemical blockers also last longer as compared to physical blockers which have to be reapplied regularly, especially in water. 
  • If you have sensitive skin, avoid chemical sunblocks as they might irritate your skin. 
  • Chemical blockers can be in forms of makeup primers and lightweight sunscreen formulations.


Physical blockers on the other hand block UV radiation mainly by reflecting/scattering the rays. 
  • They are usually finely powdered, and most people would identify themselves with them to be thick and it forms a white cast over the skin upon application.
  • One example of this would be our regular Banana Boat sunblocks that we use at the beach. 
  • The formula is thick and opaque. 
  • Physical blockers tend to rub off easily and must be frequently reapplied as compared to Chemical blockers which promote better water resistant capabilities.

We in East Asia live in the land of some of the lightest, highest-SPF, highest-PA sunblocks on the planet. The things to watch out for are the SPF (50 is the best, anything higher is pointless and anything lower needs to be reapplied constantly) and PA (at least 3 +). An SPF50 will not keep you fairer than an SPF20. It just works longer. Japanese brands in general manufacture pretty good products. Not only can you find SPF products  for your face and body, but your lips, delicate eye area and even your hair.

The sun has two forms of rays that cause damage. UVA rays are responsible for wrinkles and fine lines. UVB rays cause sunburns. Both UVA and UVB rays cause DNA damage to skin cells. The SPF number on every sunscreen corresponds to protection only against UVB rays. So what about the skin-leathering UVA rays then? Well, I’ll bring your attention to the PA rating, which refers to the amount of protection a sunscreen offers specifically against UVA rays. PA rankings are listed as PA+, PA++ or PA+++. The more plus symbols the label has, the more protection a sunscreen provides against UVA rays. For maximum protection, use a sunscreen with both a Broad Spectrum label (it refers to protection against both UVA and UVB rays) and a PA rating.

Despite its ability to protect skin, the topical shield has a reputation for being oily and pore-clogging. So let's talk about some of my favorite SPF products. I'm a big fan of multi-taskers because they are truly the smartest product innovations. SPF does not just serve its purpose alone in this day and age. If you are worried about the early signs of ageing, you can find an anti-ageing sunblock packed with antioxidants, peptides and other anti-ageing ingredients in the drugstore. Likewise, if you are plagued with teenage acne, you can find a blemish control sunblock infused with acne busting ingredients. 

I will break down my favorite sunblocks into 2 categories.

1. Save Category
2. Splurge Category

I classify my skin to be of a combination category (oily tzone, dry cheeks), with occasional redness due to hormonal sensitivity. These are some of the products which work really well for me. 

1. Sunplay Skin Aqua UV Watery Gel SPF50+PA++++ (SAVE)
Sunplay has launched 2 new ultra fresh ultra high-protection blocks and I'm using the Skin Aqua UV Watery Gel right now.

Both are SPF50 and have photo-stable PA++++. That's as high as UVA protection goes. It's jut great to see more and more PA++++ options around.  You can do all the whitening and antioxidant protection you want, but if you don't have reliable UVA protection daily, the DNA and collagen matrix of your skin will continue getting destroyed.

This is also formulated with aloe extract to protect skin from free radicals & Vitamin C to help fight dark spots for visibly fair and radiant skin. I have combination skin (dry cheeks & oily tzone) so this works for me very well. The texture is extremely light.

Suitable for: Combination Skin
Retailing at all leading drugstores & supermarkets at SGD $18.90.

2. Hada Labo Air Aqua Uv Fresh (Moist) SPF50+ PA+++ (SAVE)
Now this little gem here is a Broad spectrum SPF that is formulated with resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant found in red wine & Vitamin C help to brighten & even out skin tone. The skin is also kept hydrated with Super Hyaluronic Acid to deeply hydrate & soothe dry skin caused by sun exposure.  I find myself reaching for this when my skin is drier than usual.

Suitable for: Normal to Dry Skin
Retailing at SGD$19.90 all leading drugstores & supermarkets.

3. Estee Lauder Crescent White UV Protector SPF50/PA++++ (SPLURGE)

Now, Estee Lauder has discontinued its Cyberwhite range and replaced it with a brand new Crescent White range. It features a new breakthrough approach in skin brightening by working in-sync with the skin's circadian rhythm to address not only existing dark spots and pigmentation but also the key causes of light loss and discolouration. This means that the potent-yet-gentle regimen works around the clock to target your skin's key concerns, granting you a fairer and more flawless complexion.

I do like the SPF50 UV Protector sun cream in the range. It's completely translucent and doesn't leave a cast or a film on the skin, so I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to those with oilier skins. I tend to stick with cheaper sunblocks on a daily basis like the aforementioned, but if you are going to be out and exposed in the sun for awhile, I think it's always good to have a block which is packed with extra antioxidants and anti-irritants because no sunscreen gives you 100% protection, and this has a backup safety net of good stuff to help minimize problems when you can't avoid sun exposure. This can be a little pricey but of course nothing comes cheap. A little investment goes a really long way. 

Suitable for: All Skin Types.
Retailing at SGD$86.

4. La Roche Posay Anthelios Xl, Ultra Light Suncreen, SPF 50+ (SPLURGE)

Sensitive skin is a tiresome affliction to live with on a daily basis, it's a complete nightmare when it comes to hot weather, especially in humid Singapore. Sensitive skin strikes me usually in the week or two before my period because of the fluctuation in hormones. And I'm not only more prone to dryness (flaking) but also tend to break out in spots and rashes if I happen to use something a bit strong on my skin.

As you'd expect, chemical filters tend to cause the most problems for sensitive skin (though 'natural' filters aren't always innocent, either). "People with sensitive skin should avoid chemical sunblock because they penetrate the dermis causing chemical reactions in a already compromised skin.

Now, for people with sensitive skin, adequately protecting themselves from harmful UVA and UVB rays is even more complicated. Thick, greasy lotions may trigger an acne breakout. Fragrances, dyes and alcohol might cause allergic reactions as well. Chemical sun blockers, such as oxybenzone, may also aggravate the skin. The growing sunscreen sector has taken these sensitivity factors into account, and there are now gentler options on the market. Some lotions now use natural physical sun blockers, including zinc oxide and titanium oxide, instead of irritating chemicals. Or, if breakouts are a problem, noncomedogenic sunscreens won't clog pores.

La Roche Posay is known for being formulated for even the most intolerant skins. : Anthelios 50 Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen is made with titanium dioxide to defend against UVA rays. Manufacturer La Roche-Posay says this liquid is a special blend made with a patent-pending mineral sun filter and antioxidant complex called Cell-Ox Shield. One of the ingredients in this complex is actually a plant -- Senna Alata -- an evergreen shrub found in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and also in the southern United States. This sunscreen is para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)- and paraben-free and non-comedogenic to prevent skin irritation. Bonus for sensitive & acne prone skins!

Suitable: All skin types, even sensitive skin & acne skin conditions.
Retailing at $SGD $46.90, 50ML at all leading drugstores.

5. SW1 Beach Hat UV-Protection Oil-free Lotion (SPLURGE)

This gem here is a physical blocker. Water-proof and sweat-proof, you'll feel like you are not wearing anything with this mega lightweight but powerful sunscreen. Botanical and plant-extracts soothes problematic skin and light ups photo damage skin.

Suitable: All skin types, even sensitive skin, acne skin conditions and for children. 
Retailing at SGD$ 35, available at SW1 Clinic, as well as their online store

Fun Fact: I would also layer both sunscreen and a foundation/ tinted moisturizer / BB creme with SPF, just for the safety net. It can be tempting to be lazy, but a typical layer of sunscreen or foundation is usually not thick enough for you to maximize the sun protection factor, so it's far better to have two layers (you're more likely to max out the SPF50 protection) than to rely on just one. For touch ups, it's best to invest in a powder with SPF protection. Better be safe than sorry!