Hopefully, you already know that it’s important to wear sunscreen when you go in the sun, but do you know what SPF actually is and what it does? Knowledge is power. If you understand what sunscreen does, hopefully this will positively influence the decisions you make before exposing your skin to potential damage.
SPF, or sun protection factor, protects your skin from ultraviolet radiation, also known as UV rays. We prefer to think of it as skin protection factor as you apply it all year round, not just when the sun is out. Sunscreen can protect your skin in two different ways, depending on the type of cream you use – chemical or physical.
Chemical sunscreens, like those available in chemists and supermarkets, contain chemicals like avobenzone or oxybenzone that absorb UV rays limiting the amount of radiation penetrating the skin. Chemical sunscreens tend to penetrate the skin below the surface of the epidermis which is why it is often less well tolerated in sensitive skins.
Physical sunscreens block or deflect UVA and UVB radiation. This physical sunscreen shield is created by minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, that reflect UV rays away from your skin. Physical sunscreens have improved enormously over the last few years from thick, white sunblock to light, silky feel creams.
The SPF that is displayed on sunscreen packaging refers to how well it will protect your skin from UVB radiation, which causes sunburn and several types of skin cancer. Another type of radiation, called UVA radiation, penetrates the skin much deeper, causing premature wrinkling, age spots, and can heighten your risk of some skin cancers. Sunscreens labelled broad-spectrum, block against both UVA and UVB – these provide the best coverage.
There’s a lot of discussion around what strength of SPF is needed to protect your skin. SPF 15 may prevent up to 93 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 50 has a protection rate of around 98 percent. While the differences in protection aren’t grossly significant, if you have fair skin or burn easily it’s advisable to use a higher SPF.
No matter what SPF you choose, try to avoid excessive exposure between 10am and 3pm. While many believe sun tans look great, the damage you do to your skin when lying in the sun can have serious implications and will certainly make your skin age faster.
If you have any questions about sun protection and how to care for your skin, feel free to book a free consultation with our nurse specialist to discuss a tailored approach that will best work for you and your skin!