SUNSCREEN 101: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SPF
There are not many things more delightful than basking in the warmth of the sun, yet our skin bears the burden of its impact. When it comes to protection from the harmful rays, Sun Protection Factor (SPF) plays a crucial role, but how much is known about this product?
SPF measures a sunscreen's ability to shield the skin from UVB (ultraviolet B) rays only, which are responsible for sunburn, skin damage and the potential development of skin cancer. However, SPF does not measure sunscreen protection from UVA rays, which are less intense but penetrate deeper into the skin, contributing to skin ageing, melanoma and other types of cancer.
No sunscreen can block 100% of UV rays, despite the efficacy of sunscreen, it is vital to combine its use with other sun protection measures for better coverage.
HOW DOES SPF WORK?
SPF is not just a random number on a bottle; it signifies the level of protection a sunscreen provides against UVB rays. SPF works by blocking the UVB rays and multiplying the amount of time it takes for the skin to burn without sunscreen. An SPF 30 allows about 3 percent of UVB rays to hit your skin. An SPF of 50 allows about 2 percent of those rays through. That may seem like a small difference until you realise that the SPF 30 is allowing 50 percent more UV radiation onto your skin.
For example, if it takes 10 minutes for your skin to burn without protection, an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically extends that time to 150 minutes. However, this is a general guideline and may vary based on factors like individual skin type, application thickness, and sun exposure conditions.
It is worth mentioning that even with a high SPF, you will not be protected from all UVA rays, unless the sunscreen is broad-spectrum.
Think of it this way:
- UVB has a B for “burning” – these rays cause sunburn, ageing and increase the risk of skin cancer.
- UVA has an A for “ageing” – these rays cause wrinkles and serve as a potential cause of skin cancer (although less than UVB) after repeated exposure.
UVA rays make up more than 90% of all UV radiation, and penetrate freely through clouds and glass, year-round. Therefore, neither glass nor a cloudy day are effective in protecting your skin from the sun.
Broad spectrum sunscreen provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays, ensuring complex defence against the sun's damaging effects and minimises the risk of skin cancer. Additionally, certain medications and topical treatments can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. In such cases, the use of broad-spectrum sunscreens becomes even more important to protect the skin from potential adverse reactions.
WHAT DOES THE NUMBER MEAN?
SPF is not a measure of time, contrary to popular belief. SPF 15 does not mean you can stay in the sun 15 times longer before burning. Instead, it indicates that you could theoretically handle 15 times more UVB radiation before burning, compared to not wearing any sunscreen.
Products with very high SPFs often create a false sense of security. People who use them tend to stay out in the sun much longer. Thus, it is crucial to account for other factors, such as the time you spend outdoors, sweating, and frequency of SPF reapplication. Luckily, the SPF market is diverse and most certainly has a perfect product to meet your unique needs.
Choosing the right SPF can be confusing, especially with misconceptions floating around. It is crucial to debunk the myth that SPF 30 is twice as effective as SPF 15. In reality, SPF 15 blocks approximately 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks around 97%, and SPF 50 blocks roughly 98%. Higher SPF levels offer slightly more protection but not in a linear manner. No sunscreen can provide 100% protection, so it is essential to reapply regularly and practice other sun-safe measures.
Higher SPFs (above 50) do not necessarily offer significantly more protection than lower ones. While they provide a slightly higher shield, it is crucial to reapply sunscreen regularly, regardless of the SPF level.
HOW & WHEN TO APPLY SPF?
Applying sunscreen correctly maximises its effectiveness. Make sure to apply sunscreen at least 20-30 minutes before you go outdoors. This gives the sunscreen enough time to work before your skin is exposed to the sun. Use an equivalent of 2-3 tablespoons of sunscreen for the body and a half of a teaspoon for the face. Do not forget often-neglected areas such as ears, feet, the backs of knees and even the scalp! While traditional sunscreen lotions and creams may be unpleasant to apply, there are mist and powder formulations that are designed for use on the hairline and part-line.
Reapplication is key, so make sure to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, or more frequently if swimming or sweating. One important way to ensure that you are truly protected from harmful UV rays is to apply your sunscreen as the last step in your morning skincare routine, but before you begin applying any makeup. Please note that facial oils, such as allum’s Nourishing Elixir, do not work when layered on top of SPF-containing products—due to the fact that oils may dilute sunscreen and decrease its effect. Consider applying The Nourishing Elixir first, let it fully absorb, and then layer with a separate sunscreen to fully protect your skin from UV rays.
Alongside sunscreen, remember to wear protective clothing, seek shade, and avoid peak sun hours. Together, they form an effective defense against harmful UV radiation, keeping your skin safe and healthy under the sun's glow.
Remember, sun protection is not just for sunny days at the beach. Sun damage can occur
year-round and can accumulate over time!
CAN CHILDREN USE SPF?
Children require extra care when it comes to sun protection as their skin is thinner and more susceptible to the harmful effects of UV rays. Even a few severe sunburns during childhood can significantly increase their risk of developing skin cancer later in life. It is crucial to shield infants under 6 months from direct sunlight and instead protect them with lightweight clothing and shade.
For children above 6 months, opt for sunscreens specially designed for kids or sensitive skin. These often contain mineral-based ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which provide gentle yet effective protection. Pediatricians recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to ensure adequate defense against both UVA and UVB rays, safeguarding the future of our little ones' skin health.
Luckily, there is a variety of activity-friendly and waterproof sunscreen that caters to their playful spirits while ensuring excellent protection!
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR SPF
Generally, dermatologists recommend that you select a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher. When it comes to selecting the ideal formula, one size does not fit all. Consider your unique needs, skin type, and activities to find the perfect match for your personalized sun protection.
For Skin Types:
Sensitive Skin: Opt for gentle, mineral-based sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These physical sunscreens are less likely to cause irritation.
Oily or Acne-Prone Skin: Look for oil-free or non-comedogenic sunscreens that do not clog your pores. Gel-based or lightweight formulations work well for oily skin.
Choose sunscreens with added moisturizing properties, such as creams or lotions with hydrating ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid.
Normal or Combination Skin: Enjoy the versatility of a wide range of sunscreens, as your skin type adapts well to various formulations.
Water-Resistant: If you plan on swimming, sweating, or participating in water sports, go for water-resistant sunscreens. They adhere better to the skin during activities in the water or heavy perspiration.
Sport Formulas: Designed for active individuals, sport sunscreens offer durability and resistance to sweat and friction, making them ideal for outdoor adventures.
Chemical Sunscreens: These sunscreens absorb UV rays and convert them into heat, offering a lightweight and often transparent finish.
Physical (Mineral) Sunscreens: These sunscreens create a protective barrier on the skin's surface, reflecting UV rays away. They are ideal for those with sensitive skin.
Ultimately, the right sunscreen is the one that suits your skin's unique characteristics, activity level, and personal preferences. Be sure to check the label for broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and remember to apply it generously and reapply regularly for the best defense against the sun's rays. Your skin will thank you for the thoughtful selection and diligent protection!
As you may wonder, "how does sunscreen affect the planet?" it becomes clear that rising awareness is necessary to understand the environmental consequences of our product choices. Oxybenzone and octinoxate, commonly found in sunscreens, are the main causes of coral bleaching and marine life disruption. Beyond coral reefs, certain sunscreen compounds can also impact other aquatic life, leading to bioaccumulation in fish and potentially affecting larger marine ecosystems.
Additionally, the accumulation of sunscreen chemicals in bodies of water can contribute to water pollution and harm aquatic habitats. Choosing reef-safe sunscreens, which are free from harmful oxybenzone and octinoxate, helps protect not only our skin but also the precious marine life that enriches our planet.
Protected by our faithful SPF shield, we can savor every precious moment under the sun’s golden glow, but only in cherishing the planet we call home do we find harmony between self-care and conscious living.