It’s coming to that time of the year where people start eagerly greeting the sun, or book summer sun holidays. It’s also the time of year that sun protection cream gets purchased, and haphazardly applied. Every year people burn in their attempt to tan, or simply because they forget to apply an SPF everywhere. What do you know about SPF? Here we have a quick look at what an SPF is, what it means, and what to look for in a product. Plus, dispelling some myths along the way.
What is SPF?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is linked with a number. The value of this number is linked to your burn time. So however long you take to burn without wearing sun protection, the SPF number adds the number of minutes on to that length of time. If you usually burn in about 20 minutes sun exposure, SPF 15 gives you an extra 15 minutes before you burn. SPF 50 would give you 50 minutes extra. The primary focus of sun protection during the summer is to prevent burning the skin. This is linked to UV-B rays, the burning ray. This is the UV radiation you can feel on your skin. It’s only present during intense summer sun. As a guide SPF 15 gives you 94% protection against UV-B, SPF 30 gives you 97% protection, and SPF 50 gives you 98% protection. It is advised by doctors and skin cancer charities to wear at least an SPF 15.
However, if you are also concerned with ageing, then the higher SPF value gives you considerably more protection against UV-A rays, the ageing ray. Look for a broad spectrum sun protection cream to make sure you protect against both.
But I want to get a tan!
It is worth noting that a tan is your skin’s way of protecting itself. It’s not a beauty standard. The darker you go the more your skin is having to work to protect your DNA from the damaging effects of the sun’s radiation. However, in modern society tanning is common and desirable, especially in the summer. Here’s how you can tan safely:
• Wear an SPF … there is no such thing as 100% block from the sun so you will still tan while wearing a sun protection cream. You’ll simply avoid burning in the process.
• Avoid sunbeds: they do not offer protection against the sun’s radiation. If you really want to use them though before a holiday make sure you still wear an SPF.
• Consider fake tan!
What about the rest of the year?
While UV-B rays are only present during the summer, with their strongest period being between 11am and 3pm, UV-A rays are present year round. You might have heard your skin therapist, or even your doctor, tell you to wear an SPF all year, but in our climate it’s difficult to see why because for the majority of the year we rarely see or feel the sun!
UV-A, the ageing ray, has the same intensity every day, all day, 365 days of the year. You can’t feel UV-A, unlike the UV-B ray. It penetrates deep into the skin where it can alter pigmentation deposits, can lead to the degradation of skin proteins, and more importantly it suppresses the immune system. If ageing is a major concern, then the best way to prevent accelerated ageing is to wear a broad spectrum SPF every day. Simple.