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SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. This is an important component of your skincare routine throughout the year and especially during the summer months.
But … What exactly is SPF?
How does SPF work to protect the skin from the sun’s rays?
What do those numbers mean?
What SPF number is best? Is a higher number better?
This comprehensive guide to SPF will help you navigate the world of sun protective factors and make informed decisions on how best to protect your skin from the sun.
What is SPF?
SPF or Sun Protection Factor, is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Sunlight exposes the skin to two types of UV rays – UVB rays and UVA rays. UVB rays are primarily responsible for sunburn, skin damage, and skin cancer. UVA rays cause skin aging and wrinkles and also contribute to skin cancer.
It is crucial to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF protection to shield your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
How Does SPF Work?
SPF works by absorbing or reflecting the sun’s harmful UVB rays.
There are two main types of sunscreen: physical (or mineral) and chemical. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays while mineral sunscreens contain active minerals that sit on top of the skin and reflect both UV and UB rays.
Mineral sunscreens contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, two natural minerals that offer the skin broad-spectrum protection against UV and UB rays of the sun. It’s important to understand the benefits of mineral sunscreen vs chemical sunscreen and why mineral sunscreen is the better option – better for your skin as well as the environment.
The SPF number indicates the amount of time it would take for your skin to burn when using the sunscreen product as directed, compared to the time it would take without any sunscreen.
The higher the number, the more protection you’ll get.
SPF comes in various levels, typically ranging from 15 to 50+.
SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, while 30 blocks 97% and 50 blocks 98%. However, no sunscreen can block 100% of UV rays.
For example, if your skin normally burns after 10 minutes in the sun without protection, an SPF 15 sunscreen would extend this time by a factor of 15, allowing you to stay in the sun without burning for approximately 150 minutes.
However, it’s important to note that the sun protection factor is measured in a laboratory setting with perfect application and regular reapplication of the sunscreen.
In real-world scenarios, factors like sweat, water, and skin oils affect how long a sunscreen actually stays on your skin to protect it.
The SPF Scale: What You Need to Know
The SPF scale is not linear, which means that a higher number does not necessarily provide exponentially better protection.
Here’s a breakdown of how much protection different SPF levels offer:
• SPF 15: Blocks 93% of UVB rays
• SPF 30: Blocks 97% of UVB rays
• SPF 50: Blocks 98% of UVB rays
While the difference in protection may seem minimal, upgrading from SPF 15 to 30 can make a significant difference in shielding your skin from harmful UV rays.
What SPF Is Best for You?
Different health authorities have different recommendations regarding the ideal SPF level. However, most experts agree that SPF 15 is the minimum protection you should use.
For extended outdoor activities, such as spending a day at the beach, pool, or amusement park, it is ideal to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
If you have fair or sensitive skin, you may want to go for a higher protective factor.
It’s just as important to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, regardless of the number. Reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours is important even if it is water-resistant.
Recommendations from Major Health Authorities
– According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, regular daily use of SPF 15 sunscreen can reduce your risk of melanoma – a form of skin cancer – by as much as 50%. For extended outdoor activities, they advise using 30 or higher.
– The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an SPF 30 or higher, water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen, which blocks 97% of the sun’s UVB rays.
The two links above offer a wealth of information about what is SPF and what SPF is best.
Do Sunscreens With High SPF Protect Better?
While it may seem logical to assume that a higher SPF provides better protection, this is not always the case. In fact, high-SPF sunscreens may give you a false sense of security, resulting in you spending more time in the sun without reapplying sunscreen as often as you should.
Studies have shown that SPF sunscreens only offer a marginally higher level of protection than SPF 50 – specifically, SPF 50 blocks 98% of UV rays, while SPF 100 blocks 99%. That’s a 1% difference.
For most people, an SPF of 30 or higher is sufficient for adequate protection.
How to apply sunscreen
To truly protect your skin from UV exposure, it’s crucial to apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, including the ears, neck, and tops of your feet.
Be sure to use enough sunscreen, and don’t forget to reapply every 2 hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.
Sunscreen Guidelines for Everyone
1. Everyone, regardless of skin color, should wear sunscreen, as anyone can develop skin cancer.
2. Sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB skin damage and premature aging.
3. Both chemical and mineral sunscreens are considered effective and safe by the FDA.
4. All sunscreens, regardless of the protection factor, can rub off or break down on your skin within two hours – even faster if you’re swimming or sweating. Therefore, it’s essential to reapply sunscreen every two hours for optimal protection.
Tips For Choosing the Right Sunscreen
It’s best to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects your skin against both UVA and UVB rays.
For water-based activities or if you tend to sweat a lot, choose a water-resistant sunscreen. Keep in mind that no sunscreen is entirely waterproof, and reapplication is necessary after swimming or sweating
Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside and reapply every 2 hours, or more frequently if swimming or sweating.
Use enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin, about 1 ounce (or a shot glass full) for an average-sized adult.
Spray sunscreens are popular for their ease of application, especially with children. However, some experts recommend using cream-based sunscreens instead, as spray sunscreens may release harmful chemicals that can be inhaled.
If you prefer a natural, mineral-based sunscreen, be aware that it may not provide the same level of protection as chemical sunscreens. When choosing a natural sunscreen, look for one with a base of olive oil or coconut oil, which have natural SPF protection of around SPF 8.
As mentioned earlier, experts recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 for optimal protection. While higher SPF sunscreens may offer slightly more protection, the key is to apply and reapply diligently, regardless of the SPF.
Sun Protection Tips for Babies and Toddlers
Avoid using sunscreen on babies under six months old, as their skin is more sensitive to the chemicals in sunscreen. Instead, keep them in the shade and dress them in protective clothing.
For children over six months, use a cream-based, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a protection factor of 30 or higher.
Can You Still Get a Tan While Wearing Sunscreen?
Yes, it is possible to get a tan while wearing sunscreen. Sunscreen application can be uneven, and its effectiveness can diminish over time, especially if it’s rubbed off, sweated off, or washed away. The key to maintaining healthy skin is to use sunscreen as part of a comprehensive sun protection strategy that includes seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and reapplying sunscreen regularly.
By understanding SPF, choosing the right sunscreen, and following proper application guidelines, you can protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun, reducing your risk of sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer.
Remember to always use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating for optimal protection.
Best Sunscreen Brands
These are the best sunscreen brands I’ve shortlisted after reading several reviews:
It’s important to choose a sunscreen that fits your skin type, concerns, and needs, so it’s best to consult with a dermatologist or healthcare provider for personalized recommendations.
Sun protection doesn’t have to be complicated. These simplified sun-safety guidelines highlight 12 easy things you can do to provide your skin with the ultimate protection against the sun.
Frequently Asked Questions about SPF and Choosing the Right SPF:
What is SPF? How Does It Work?
SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a measure of how well a sunscreen product protects the skin from harmful UVB rays. It works by extending the time it takes for UVB rays to cause sunburn on the skin.
What does the SPF number mean?
The number represents the level of protection against UVB rays. It indicates how much longer it would take for the skin to burn compared to not wearing any sunscreen.
What number is considered good protection?
SPF 30 and above is generally recommended for adequate protection against the sun’s harmful UVB rays.
Does a higher SPF provide all-day protection?
No, regardless of the SPF, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours or more frequently if sweating, swimming, or rubbing the skin.
Can I use a low SPF if I have dark skin?
People with darker skin tones are still susceptible to sun damage and should use broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
Is sun protection only needed on sunny days?
No, UV rays can penetrate through clouds and windows, so it’s important to wear sunscreen every day, even on cloudy or overcast days.
Is sunscreen protection necessary during winter months?
Yes, UV rays can cut through the clouds and still harm the skin during winter. Snow and ice can reflect sunlight, increasing the risk of sunburn. See what the research shows about the importance of using sunscreen in winter.
Can I use a high SPF to stay in the sun longer?
No, sunscreen should not be used as a means to prolong sun exposure. It is crucial to practice sun safety, seek shade, wear protective clothing, and limit sun exposure, especially during peak hours.
Can I rely solely on makeup with SPF for sun protection?
Makeup with SPF is better than no protection, but it’s usually not applied in sufficient quantities to provide the advertised protection. It’s recommended to use a dedicated sunscreen as a base layer.
Are all SPF products the same?
No, they vary significantly in terms of formulation, ingredients, and broad-spectrum protection. Look for reputable brands and choose a sunscreen that suits your skin type.
Can I use expired sunscreen?
Expired sunscreen may not provide adequate protection. It’s best to check the expiry date and replace sunscreen that is past its prime.
Can I use a combination of products for better sun protection?
Using multiple skincare products does not increase protection. Instead, apply a sufficient amount of a single broad-spectrum sunscreen for effective coverage.
Remember, it’s always advisable to consult with a dermatologist or healthcare professional for personalized advice regarding sun protection.
SPF is a crucial factor in protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. It’s important to choose a sunscreen with an appropriate protective factor level and to reapply it frequently for the best protection.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to serve as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before using any natural medication or if you experience any unusual symptoms. See Full Disclaimer here.