What Does SPF Mean? A Crash Course in Sun Safety
With summer right around the corner, many of us have started dreaming of warmer weather and sun-kissed skin. Meaning there’s no better time to start getting serious—or in some cases, even more serious—about sun protection. While sun protection doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as all that fun in the sun you’ll have this spring and summer, it’s unbelievably more important. Before the warmer weather is in full swing, we’re sharing a crash course in sun safety. From how dangerous UV rays can be to what SPF really means, get the sun safety information you need, below.
HOW DOES SUNSCREEN WORK?
Sunscreen is one of the most important—if not the most important— skin care product you’ll ever have in your arsenal. Choosing one with broad-spectrum protection and an SPF of at least 30 can help reduce the appearance of early skin aging caused by the sun’s harmful UV rays, as well as reduce the risk of skin cancer. Speaking of skin cancer, did you know that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime? With an incredibly high probability like that, why wouldn’t you apply (and reapply) sunscreen day in and day out? Just be sure to check the expiration date on the label— according to the Mayo Clinic, most sunscreens are formulated to perform for up to three years.
UV RAYS 101
While those warm rays may feel good on your skin, they’re actually doing way more harm than good—especially if you’re not wearing sunscreen. From wrinkles and sun spots to more serious consequences like skin cancer, the side effects of UV rays are nothing to joke about, which is why you should be wearing sunscreen. Every. Single. Day. Even on cloudy days, when the sun feels like it’s taking a break, it still has the potential to do major damage.
WHAT DOES SPF MEAN?
SPF—which stands for Sun Protection Factor—is based on time. Meaning, the SPF number you see on your sunscreen is a measure of how long your skin can be in direct sunlight without beginning to get red or getting a sunburn. Another important thing to know about SPF is that it measures UVB rays—the type that burn the skin—but the sun also emits UVA rays, which can be equally as dangerous. When it comes to protecting your skin, cover your bases and go with a broad-spectrum SPF-packed sunscreen which protects against both UVB and UVA rays.
IT'S THE NUMBER ONE SKIN CARE PRODUCT WE ALL UNIVERSALLY NEED
While we don't all need to reach for a spot treatment to banish breakouts or invest in anti-aging night creams, the one product we do all need to use each and every day is broad-spectrum sunscreen. According to dermatologists, this universal skin care product is the best way to prevent sun damage and also prevent the signs of premature skin aging. Still think you can skip that application?
THERE ARE CHEMICAL AND PHYSICAL SUNSCREENS
Did you know that not all sunscreen is created equal? Sun protection comes in two main forms: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreen (also known as mineral sunscreen) contains active mineral ingredients including zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. These two ingredients offer broad-spectrum coverage against both UVA and UVB rays. Chemical sunscreen contains organic (carbon-based) active ingredients, such as octocrylene and avobenzone, which absorb UV light. To learn more about the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens read this!
HOW MUCH SUNSCREEN DO I NEED TO USE?
Has your sunscreen bottle lasted you for years and years? There’s a good chance you’re not applying the recommended amount. You’ll want to apply at least one ounce—enough to fill up a shot glass—to cover all exposed parts of the body. Reapply at least every two hours, especially if you plan to sweat excessively or go for a dip.
WHAT DOES WATER-RESISTANT SUNSCREEN DO?
Speaking of water, if you anticipate a day spent at the beach or pool, it’s a good idea to reach for water-resistant sunscreen. Water-resistant means that the sunscreen is maintained for up to 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating.
SHOULD I USE A SPRAY SUNSCREEN OR A LOTION?
Creams: If you have dry skin, you might have a better experience with a cream-based sunscreen.
Lotions: Lotions are great for use on larger areas of skin. They also tend to be thinner and less greasy compared to creams
Gels: Gels are great for hairy areas, like the scalp.
Sticks: For the skin around your eyes, a sunscreen in stick-form can be useful.
Sprays: For hard-to-reach areas, a spray sunscreen can make application easier. A good way to ensure you’ve covered every spot is by applying sunscreen with a cream or lotion-based formula, and following up with a spray as a back-up.
SUN PROTECTION IS PERSONAL
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, it takes approximately 20 minutes for skin that’s unprotected to start burning. An SPF 15 sunscreen then, should prevent that burning at least 15 times longer. However, there are two other points to consider: One, is that is SPF 15 only blocks out 93 percent of UV rays and two, is that no sunscreen should be relied on for more than two hours without reapplication. So, if you burn easily, have a history of skin cancer, or are very concerned with wrinkles and dark spots, you may want to consider a higher number SPF and remember to reapply often!
Have you ever heard the phrase, “just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there?” We’re pretty sure that quote was written about the sun. So this spring and summer—and all year round—wear your sunscreen and reapply, please.