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What Does the SPF in your Sunscreen Actually Mean?

spf sunscreen

SPF 50

SPF 30

SPF 15

They are even making SPF 70 now!

But, do you know what the SPF in your sunscreen actually means?

With Skin Cancer Awareness Month wrapped up and the start of summer coming, I wanted to write a blog to debunk some of the myths that surround sunscreen, and help you pick the right one for you and your family.

What Does SPF Stand For?

SPF stands for sun protection factor which is derived by taking how long it would take you to burn when you have applied sunscreen, by how long it takes you to burn without sunscreen.

For example if you normally burn after 5 hours in the sun with sunscreen on, and 10 minutes without you would divide 300/10 and end up with Sun protection factor or SPF of 30.

According to Skincancer.org you don’t actually need an SPF higher than 30. And it is Dr. Jacobs personal opinion that going above a SPF of 30 introduces additional chemicals to the skin without adding additional protection.

UVA and UVB Rays

Now keep in mind that SPF only indicates that the sunscreen is blocking UVB rays, leaving you susceptible to other kinds of harmful UV light, such as UVA rays. So you’ll want to make sure that you are using a broad spectrum sunscreen like the ones offered in the SCIN program.

It’s also important to understand that while the SPF in your sunscreen is important, it’s not an exact science because there are a variety of factors that affect the amount of Ultra violet (UV) light you are actually exposed to.

Such as:

  • Cloud coverage
  • Time of day
  • Reflection off bodies of water like pools, lakes and the ocean

That’s why even though a sunscreen with a SPF of 50 should protect you for 50 times longer than not wearing sunscreen alone, it’s still recommended that you re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours.

Always err on the side of caution and re-applying when it comes to sunscreen.

Many sunburns can even be avoided altogether by applying sunscreen the correct way:

Physical vs Chemical Sunscreens:

There are two types of sunscreen:

  1. Physical sunscreen. Physical sunscreen contains active mineral ingredients which physically block the UV rays away from your skin. Physical sunscreens have no wait time, and are less likely to have a bad reaction with your skin or clog your pores.
  2. Chemical sunscreen. Contain carbon based compounds that change UV rays into heat and releasing that heat onto the skin. Chemical sunscreens have a 20 minute waiting period for them to start protecting you are easier to apply and spread and require less sunscreen to protect the skin.

Physical vs Chemical sunscreens could have it’s own separate blog post, but it’s important to begin to understand the differences between them in order to make the right choice for you and your family.

3 Steps To Applying Sunscreen The Correct Way

  1. Pick the right sunscreen. You’ll want to select a broad-spectrum sunscreen with the correct SPF for your skin. Look for formulas that are paraben free and water resistant.
  2. Start early. It takes between 15 and 20 minutes for sunscreen to absorb into your skin, so you’ll want to apply the sunscreen BEFORE you actually get into the sun for best results. You’ll want to apply sunscreen generously as it takes about a 16-ounce bottle of sunscreen to sufficiently protect a normal sized adult. Make sure that you apply the sunscreen to all exposed bare skin including the tops of feet and backs of hands and be sure to rub in thoroughly.
  3. Re-apply often. You should generally be re-applying sunscreen every 2 hours or so that you are directly exposed to sunlight. The number one reason people who apply sunscreen still end up with sun burns is because they only applied it once. You’ll also need to re-apply your sunscreen if you go swimming or become excessively sweaty, no matter how water resistant your sunscreen claims to be.

Skin Cancer Awareness Month is ending, but the summer is just heating up, so make sure that you take care of your skin and the skin of your loved ones this year with the right SPF sunscreen and proper application.

In this article we looked at what SPF or sun protection factor actually means.

You learned how to calculate the SPF you need by dividing the time it takes you to burn with sunscreen by the time it takes you to burn without.

You also learned that not all sunscreens or UV light is created equal, so you’ll want to pick a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection so you’ll be safe from both UVA and UVB rays.

You learned about Physical and Chemical sunscreens and a few pros and cons of each.

Lastly you learned the 3 steps to applying sunscreen the correct way which were:

  1. Pick the right sunscreen
  2. Start Early
  3. Re-apply Often

Picking the right sunscreen can sometimes feel like you’re Goldilocks trying to pick the right bowl of porridge. This SPF is too low, this SPF is too high. But when you finally find the right SPF broad spectrum sunscreen for you and your family it will be just right.

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