Many of my clients ask me about SPF and what exactly it is, there are many myths about it and generally people are misinformed. I have answered below some of the more common questions I get asked and hope you find the answers helpful.
What is an SPF?
SPF simply stands for Sun Protection Factor.
Why do I need to use SPF?
Because the SPF is the ability of a sunscreen to block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which cause sunburns, but not UVA rays, which are more closely linked to deeper skin damage. Sadly both UVA and UVB contribute to the risk of skin cancer, which we all want to avoid of course. The only way to truly avoid these rays is by staying out of the sun completely.
What SPF Factor should I use?
A lot of this depends on your skin type and colour. If you have a natural dark skin already then you may be able to use a lower SPF however if you have red hair, fair skin and freckles you will need to use a much higher protection factor. As a guide, an SPF15 in a sunscreen will block 93% of UVB radiation whilst an SPF30 will block 97%.
Surprisingly, there are actually potential downsides to using products with very high SPFs. Firstly, above SPF 50 the increase in UVB protection is minimal. Second, although UVA protection is also important, SPFs mainly measure UVB protection. If you apply a high SPF sunscreen you may not burn, but without UVA-screening ingredients you can still receive large amounts of skin-damaging radiation.
It is recommended that we use products with an SPF no less than 30 and no higher than 50, in fact in Europe the regulatory body has capped the SPF of sunscreens to 50.
It is possible to buy sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB rays, these are sometimes labeled multi spectrum or broad spectrum and can include ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, ecamsule, and oxybenzone (don’t worry, nobody’s expecting you to remember those names).
But don’t I get Vitamin D from the Sun?
The answer is yes, but not just from sitting in the sun for long periods when the sun is high in the sky, the disadvantages vastly outweigh any benefits. You can get Vitamin D from the sun all year round, a daily walk when the sun is out throughout the entire year is enough for most of us to get our Vitamin D dose.
A general SPF is only good for blocking UVB rays from burning the skin and not UVA/B rays from causing deeper skin damage which in turn can cause signs of ageing and the risk of skin cancer. Try to find a sunscreen that protects you from both kinds of skin damaging rays.
Staying Safe in The Sun
The best ways to stay protected in the sun are:
- Wear a hat and suitable sunglasses
- Stay in the shade and only sit in the sun for short periods
- Avoid being in the sun between 10am and 4pm
- Re-apply sunscreen at least every 2 hours
- Cover up with suitable clothing
- Do not allow your skin to burn
I hope you found this interestingand informative. If you would like any more information on this, or recommendations for products then contact me or visit me at my Abfab studio, set next to the River Thames in Caversham.