So What is SPF Really?
When using sunscreen, the most important thing you can do is use it correctly. Studies show that at least 25% of us either do not use enough sunscreen, or simply don’t apply it properly. To help consumers “gauge” a sunscreen’s effectiveness, a Swiss chemist named Franz Greiter introduced SPF (Sun Protection Factor) back in the 1960s. This measurement of a sunscreen’s effectiveness can still be confusing to consumers today, so we thought we’d help clear things up a bit. After all, if you’re going to get the protection you’re expecting from a sunscreen, you should understand what SPF means and how it can help you choose the right sunscreen.
To many people, saying a sunscreen has an SPF of 50, for example, gives no more information than describing a car as being fast. What does fast mean to you? It could be that your classic Chevy is really fast. To another person a Ferrari would be what they consider a “fast” car. About the only thing to be sure of, is a car that will go 150 miles per hour, is not as fast as a car that will go over 200. It’s similar with sunscreens. It’s probably obvious to you that an SPF 50 protects more than an SPF 30. But how much more?
To help with understanding your sunscreen’s SPF, we’ve put together an Infographic. (left). After reviewing it, we think you’ll be empowered to make a better sunscreen choice for you and your family. You might also want to impress your friends with your new-found SPF knowledge.
Important Facts Related to SPF—
SPF refers to the level of UVB protection in sunscreen. UVB rays are the “burning” rays that cause your skin to turn red and burn. In recent years, scientists have also learned the importance of protecting yourself from UVA radiation as well. UVA rays do not burn your skin like UVB, but “penetrate” deeper into your skin where they contribute to premature aging (wrinkling) and are also now directly linked to skin cancer. That is why it is important to have a sunscreen that not only has an adequate SPF, but is also labeled as BROAD SPECTRUM to give you the most complete UV protection. (see 2012 new FDA regulations)
The level of trust you can have in the SPF of a sunscreen depends a lot on how you apply it. Organizations like the Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend reapplying sunscreen every couple of hours of continuous sun exposure. The reason is simple, swimming and activities that make you sweat reduce a sunscreen’s effectiveness. For more information on applying sunscreen properly, here’s a great VIDEO that illustrates nicely what you need to know.
If the math in the infographic got a little technical for your liking, here are some important things to remember about SPF. First, an SPF 30 DOES NOT give you twice the protection of an SPF 15. An SPF 15 filters about 93% of the sun’s UVB rays. An SPF 30 protects against 96% of UVB rays. SPF 30 is a good choice for many people because it generally applies well and provides a good level of protection. For people who spend a lot of time in the sun, or have very fair skin, a higher SPF would be a better, safer choice. Below is a simple chart that may help you decide which SPF is right for you. But ultimately, it’s about knowing your skin and finding an appropriate SPF for your lifestyle. One last suggestion: If you’re going to experiment with SPFs to find what works best for you, start with an SPF 70 and work your way down. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to sunburn.