SPF represents a sunscreen’s degree of protection mainly against ultraviolet B (UVB), the sun’s shorter wavelength rays, which cause sunburn and can lead to skin cancer. SPF doesn’t represent an amount of sun protection but rather a length of time. It gauges how long the sun would take to redden your skin when using a particular sunscreen compared with the amount of time without sunscreen. For example, if you use an SPF 15 product under ideal circumstances (meaning you use enough, apply it evenly and don’t sweat it off), it would take you 15 times longer to burn than if you weren’t using sunscreen.
There is much to understand and wive’s tales on what really matters when it comes to sunscreen. It is important to understand what you are protecting your skin from when we hear talk about the sun’s harmful rays.
UVA vs UVB
UVA and UVB rays both are cancer causing but the main different their wavelengths are different. UVA wavelengths are longer while UVB are shorter. This is important to keep in mind when thinking about your sunscreen and making sure that both wavelengths are covered.
A sunscreen must protect against the sun’s long-wave ultraviolet (UVA) rays as well as UVB. Like UVB rays, these can cause cancer, and they are the major cause of premature skin aging. The term “broad spectrum” means the sunscreen protects against both harmful UVA/UVB rays.
One thing you typically here is that with sunscreen if the protection is SPF 3, 40 or 50 that is how long your skin in protected from the sun. From studies we see if, say, an SPF 30 sunscreen is being tested, and the patch of protected skin goes 30 times longer than the unprotected skin before reddening, it proves that the product is at least an SPF 30. It does not reflect the time per say but the rate in how long the skin is protected.
The peak sun exposure hours are 10 am to 4 pm so taking additional steps of clothing, hats, sunglasses and shade to protect your skin is important to keep in mind. Also, when looking at sunscreens make sure to look for a water-resistant, broad spectrum formula, along with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Here is a list of products I have found to be helpful and effective. Also if you are after that glow and really want to protect your skin, sunless tanner is a great alternative to get bronzed without the harmful sun exposure. I’m a huge advocate of a healthy organic spray tan as opposed to countless hours forfeiting your beautiful skin when you don’t have to!