Indian skin has natural photoprotection in the form of the skin pigment melanin, which works as a natural sunscreen and protects the skin from photoaging and skin cancer.

The skin-type classification used by dermatologists is called Fitzpatrick skin phenotype system, which measured how skin tans and burns on exposure to ultraviolet light. Most Indians are type IV to type VI, which means the skin tans easily and never burns.

The spectrum of the sun’s rays has both UVA, which is responsible for skin ageing and tanning and UVB, which is responsible for burning. Indian skin type needs protection from UVA to prevent unwanted tanning and decrease dark patches on the face, arms and feet.

The sunlight is the most potent between 11 am and 4 pm, so UVA protection outdoors is imperative.

UVB protection is needed to prevent sunburn, which is most often needed on beaches, swimming and vacations when sun exposure is over a long period of time.

Sun protection

  • “Slip, slop, slap, seek and slide” is a popular sun protection campaign.
  • Slip-on long sleeve clothing, preferably made of cotton or rayon fibres that are most effective against UV.
  • Slop a sunscreen when out in sun. The first layer should be a chemical sunscreen of SPF 20o-30o, and the second player a physical sunscreen of calamine lotion or compact powder.
  • Slap on a hat or a scarf to cover your head and neck, seek shade or shelter at noon and slide on sunglasses.

Picking a sunscreen

  • Replace your cosmetic sunscreen with one made by a cosmeceuticals company. Always read the label before you buy.
  • The belief that the higher the SPF, the better the protection, is totally wrong. Indian skin needs 20-30 SPF only when you’re out in sun from 11 am – 4 pm.
  • Apply a generous amount of sunscreen on exposed areas of the skin at least 30 min before sun exposure. Since sunscreens get absorbed by the skin in 2–2½ hours, so reapplication every 2 ½ to 3 hours is a must. Wipe your face with wet wipes before reapplication.
  • Skin needs some amount of sun exposure to make vitamin D, so avoid using sunscreens if you’re out for 10-15 minutes. A UVB dose on a small area of skin on a regular basis is essential to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D3.
  • Choose sunscreens to suit your skin type. Oily skin needs gel-based and spray-based sunscreens, while normal to dry skin need lotion-based ones.
  • Get water-resistant ones if you’re planning to swim.

Sunscreens in children

  • Children have an immature skin structure and childhood sun exposure can put them at higher risk sun damage.
  • No sunscreen should be used for children less than 6 months old, and only physical protection – linen wraps, full-sleeved clothes, scarves, caps etc — should be used for children less than two years old.


Dr Shehla Agarwal is a consultant dermatologist and director, Mehak Derma & Surgery Clinic, New Delhi