What Does SPF Mean? A Look into Sunscreen

We all know the importance of sunscreen, and how pivotal it is to keep your skin protected from the harsh rays of the sun. But when you walk into the sunscreen aisle there’s one major determining factor that alters the way you purchase the product – the SPF level. But what does SPF mean? Consider this look into SPF when you purchase your next bottle of sunscreen.

What Does SPF Mean?

SPF stands for “sun protection factor”, a number that will tell you how effective said sunscreen is at protecting your skin. Simply calculated, the SPF number equates to how long it would take for you to get sunburnt, compared to the time it takes you to get sunburnt without protection. For example, when you apply SPF 10, it will take you 10 times longer to burn than it would without protection.

Considerations When Purchasing SPF

Now that you know what SPF means, it’s important to know how this protection level effects your skin, and considerations to make when purchasing it. It is recommended to purchase a broad spectrum sunscreen that block UVA and UVB rays. As well, the SPF should be a minimum of SPF 30.

Application & Reapplication

One of the most overlooked aspects of wearing the correct SPF is simply how much to apply, and most people don’t apply enough. For correct application, you should be applying two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin; this is on average about one teaspoon of product per area of the body (each arm, leg, face and neck, etc.).

Sunscreen also needs to be reapplied regularly to maintain its protective effect. Reapplication should happen every 2 hours, and even less if you’ve spent your time splashing around in a pool, lake or sprinklers.

Aspects Out of Your Control

Regardless of the SPF level you purchase, there are variables out of your control that can affect your sensitivity to the sun. Genetic makeup is a major aspect of your susceptibility to potential issues like skin cancer, and even if you don’t burn easily you may require a stronger SPF to help you protect your skin further. Medications or antibiotics can also increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so you may require a higher SPF to ensure fewer UVB rays are getting through to your skin.

Sun Protective Clothing

Sun protective clothing is an excellent way to ensure you stay protected, in addition to sunscreen. Sun protective clothing is given a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating of up to UPF 50, with the higher the rating equating to a higher protection level. Many sportswear stores carry sun protective clothing, as well as many online retailers.

Avoid Peak Hours

Even when wearing the strongest sunscreen, with a high SPF and proper application, the best way to ensure you avoid damaging your skin is simply staying inside during peak sun strength hours. The sun is at its strongest between 10 am and 4 pm, especially between the months of May to August. During these hours, plan for indoor activities when possible where you can stay cool and air conditioned.

No SPF is 100%

Relying solely on sunscreen to protect you from the sun’s rays is not an effective way of protecting yourself, as no SPF offers 100% protection from UVA and UVB rays. Though higher SPFs like 80 and 100 offer more protection than SPF 2, your skin will still be susceptible to the sun and the damage it can cause.

What does SPF Mean for Summer Protection?

Staying smart while in the sunlight is the most important thing you can do for your skin. Avoid being in the sun when the sun’s rays are strongest in the middle of the day, applying a broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30, liberally every two hours, and seeking out shade while outside will help you keep your skin safe and youthful.