What Is SPF?

What Is SPF?

The summer sunshine has finally arrived! For many of us, that means spending a lot more time outdoors, maybe at the pool or at the beach. Even if your summer sun exposure is limited to mowing the lawn or washing the car, however, skin protection is critical.

Today there are more skin protection products available than ever before.  More choices can mean more confusion. What is SPF? What do the SPF numbers mean and how important are they? What is the difference between UVA rays and UVB rays? Are spray products better than lotions? How often should I apply sunscreen anyway?

Why We Need Sunscreen

Understanding sunscreen products starts with understanding why we need them. Sunshine that makes it through the ozone layer contains two types of radiation we need to be concerned about. Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays can age the skin. These rays penetrate deep into the skin’s layers causing damage that may show up years later as wrinkles, age spots, and leathered skin. UVA rays can damage skin all year round, even in cloudy weather. Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are most responsible for skin burns. While even winter skiers can get sunburns, most sunburns occur in the summer months. Both UVA and UVB rays have been implicated as causes of skin cancer.

What kind of sunscreen should I look for?

To prevent damage from both UVA and UVB rays, look for a sunscreen that is marked “Broad Spectrum” on the label. The SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, on the label is a measure of UVB protection, or the degree of protection against sunburn. For instance, according to WebMD, an SPF of 15 blocks about 94 percent of UVB rays, an SPF of 30 blocks 97 percent, and an SPF of 45 blocks 98 percent. Higher SPF numbers are better, but after 50 the degree of extra protection is negligible.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) no longer allows sunscreens to advertise that they are “waterproof” or “sweat proof”.  Water dilutes the power of all sunscreens. Instead, new labeling rules require manufacturers to specify how long the sunscreen will remain “water resistant”. This information can be used to help consumers know how often the sunscreen should be reapplied.

Lotion or spray?

Whether you use a lotion or a spray, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s directions about how and when to apply the sunscreen. Many dermatologists recommend that sunscreen should be used during the winter, on cloudy days, and even while driving as UVA rays can penetrate the glass of a car’s windshield. Sunscreen should be reapplied according the manufacturer’s recommendations, more often if a person is swimming or sweating profusely.

Sunscreen generally should be applied about 30 minutes before going out into the sun. The average adult should apply about one ounce, or a shot-glass full, of sunscreen from head to toe for proper protection.  Bald heads, or heads with sparse hair need sunscreen. Don’t forget the feet. Sunburn and skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body and feet are often missed when sunscreen is applied.

If you have questions about what sunscreen to use, ask your dermatologist or skin care specialist what they recommend and what SPF is. Careful protection now can have a great bearing on your skin’s health in the future. You can also request your free skin consultation at Vivia Center where our skincare specialists will match you with products that are right for your skin.

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