You know sunscreen is important for your skin. It helps to prevent burning when you spend hours in the rays. But with the right type of sunscreen, you can do more than that. You offer your skin barrier protection against all the types of rays from the sun. There’s protection against both UVA and UVB rays, protecting against both skin cancer and signs of aging.
Getting the right protection is about looking at the type of SPF protection you get. This is a look at the types of rays protected again and the strength of the protection.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the strength of sunscreen you need. Some will say the higher the better, regardless of your skin type. However, you’ll want to consider your skin darkness and the amount of time you’re going to be out in the sun. After all, some of the rays are good as they can lead to vitamin D development in the body.
So with that in mind, it’s time to look at an all-in-one guide to sunscreen and the SPF protection.
What Does SPF Do?
Let’s start with a look at SPF and what it does. Sun protection factor (SPF) is the amount of protection you get from UVB rays. It doesn’t help to measure the UVA rays, but you can find out if a sunscreen offers that protection by finding something that states it protects against the rays or offers “broad-spectrum protection.”
UVA rays are the ones that cause signs of aging and cancer. They affect the skin more deeply, on a cellular level. It can be difficult to reverse the damage, so you want to protect as much as possible.
The UVB rays are the ones that cause the skin to burn. While the UVB rays can lead to skin cancer, the UVA rays will increase the chances of cancer to develop and spread.
There are different figures you will see on bottles of sunscreen. These figures don’t give an exact science to the amount of time you can spend in the sun, but tell you an estimate of the amount of extra time you can protect against burning based on the normal amount of time it takes to burn. For example, if you burn within 10 minutes without sunscreen, you will about five hours of protection with SPF 30 sunscreen. You’d get about 2.5 hours of protection with SPF 15.
The use of SPF figures on bottles has been gradually increasing over time. Now the FDA states that bottles need to have the level and anything under SPF 15 will include a warning label. This alerts users to the increased risk of skin cancer and other negative risks of being out in the sun.
Darker Skin Naturally Offers More Protection
People with darker skin will find that they have naturally more protection than those with lighter skin. The melanin offers a natural barrier, due to the likelihood of them being in sunnier climes. The intensity of the sun at the equator is stronger, so the body naturally offers protection against that.
It is still possible to burn and it is still possible to suffer from signs of aging and damage from the UVA rays. There’s still a need for higher SPF ratings on sunscreen, even if you do have darker skin. SPF 30 is considered the minimum, especially for those who are planning a day out in the sun. If you have fine skin, you’ll want a minimum of SPF 50.
SPF 30 is the most popular in stores and can offer up to five hours of protection for those with dark or very dark skin. It blocks 97% of the UVB rays. Unless you have very fine skin, you may find that the SPF 50 offers little extra protection, as it only blocks an extra percent on the UVB rays. Of course, any extra protection is good for you. The SPF 50 sunscreens tend to offer better UVA protection, as long as it’s a “broad-spectrum” coverage.
SPF 100 offers to protect against 99% of the rays. So for something that is likely going to cost you a lot more, isn’t going to give you much more protection against SPF 50.
If you do choose a higher rating, don’t think that you’re covered for the whole day. It’s easy to forget to reapply after swimming or after about two hours in the sun. Yes, despite technically getting around 5 hours in the sun, you’re only going to get 2-3 hours of effectiveness. You’ll need to reapply as the sunscreen soaks into the skin. It’s also worth using physical products to block the rays, including clothing and parasols.
You will likely find some sunscreens that offer up to SPF 60, but there’s no need to go this high. Your skin will still need some of the rays to help increase the amount of vitamin D being absorbed into the body. If you only have a higher SPF, consider spending about 10-15 minutes out in the sun first to help get direct sunrays that will help boost the vitamin D creation naturally in the body.
Watch Out for the Extra High Labels
Just because something is labeled as offering SPF 100 doesn’t mean that it actually does. Those who get the extra high bottles do tend to be complacent. Studies have shown that some SPF 100 sunscreens have actually only offered a 37 and 75 protection level!
The FDA is currently putting a ban on labels that are higher than 50, but this isn’t in place yet. You may start to see a reduction soon. However, this will also depend on where you visit, as each country will have its own regulation.
It’s also important to remember that the SPF protection involves nothing about the UVA protection. This gets in deeper into the skin and the amount of protection can be negatively affected by offering more UVB protection. You could find yourself accidentally putting your skin in more harm’s way. Some of the popular products in the United States aren’t even sold throughout Europe because they don’t even offer the minimum UVA protection expected!
There’s also the risk of more chemical ingredients being soaked into the skin. Extra chemicals are needed to create the higher SPF figure, but this can lead to more health and skin problems. SPF 30-50 still offers the necessary protection without the risks to the health and the potential hormonal disruption.
Natural Sunscreens and Protection
Some natural products will have an SPF listed. For example, coconut oil offers around SPF 7-8, while some other oils can offer up to SPF 10-12. However, these are ratings started in individual studies. It is worth noting that each bottle of the oil isn’t individually tested and there is no guarantee that you will get that stated protection.
If you have skin that burns easily, you will still want to get an FDA recommended the brand. This will help to ensure a level of protection for your skin. Remember that SPF 30 can be good enough, as long as it’s “broad-spectrum.”
Speaking of “broad-spectrum,” you’ll want to remember that the natural protection isn’t tested for protection against UVA rays. The SPF is just for the UVB rays. This could mean you’re still at risk of damaging the lower layers of the skin and increasing the chances of skin cancer and signs of aging.
There are natural options out there with SPF 30+. You will want to look at the brands and the ingredients on the back. Make sure they are approved for your type of skin, especially when the SPF is 15 or less! SPF 15 offers barely any protection for those with very fine skin who burn and never tan.
Use Your Sunscreen Wisely
Whatever SPF you have, you want to make sure the sunscreen is being used properly. This isn’t just about applying it at the right time of the day, but also reapplying it throughout the day.
Let’s start with the initial application. Because the UVA rays get into deeper layers of the skin, you want to make sure you give the sunscreen time to soak in and become active. It can take 30 minutes for this to happen, so you need to apply your sunscreen 30 minutes before you leave the house. Give your skin time to soak in the sunscreen before you dress and always apply it underneath your makeup on your face.
If you have darker skin, you may get away with not waiting the full 30 minutes. If your skin has a very bad habit of burning, apply a thick layer that will soak in slowly over the space of the 30 minutes; any that hasn’t soaked in after that time isn’t going to offer any extra protection.
During the day, you want to reapply regularly. While a sunscreen may last five hours, you’re not going to get even and full protection over that time. The best level of protection is within the first couple of hours, so you’ll want to reapply every 2-3 hours throughout the day. It doesn’t matter if you think you still have protection. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the sun.
There seems to be a habit of people applying sparingly. You want to cover the whole body fully. If you don’t apply enough to your skin, you don’t get the full protective layer and this can lead to burning in patches or in a shorter amount of time than you would have otherwise gained.
If you have been in the water, reapply your sunscreen. Sure, it might say that it’s waterproof, but that means it offers protection while in the water. Once you’ve come out, you will need to offer a new protective layer to the top of your skin, especially after rubbing yourself dry! This applies whether you opt for the outdoor swimming pool or you have a day at the beach.
The sunscreen, even with stronger SPF, doesn’t negate the benefits of covering up. Stay out of the sun between the hottest hours of 11 am and 2 pm. If you do need to go out in these hours, opt for as much shade as possible. Before 10 am and after 3 pm are the safest hours, when the sun’s rays are least intensive. If you’re out in the afternoon, you’ll likely want to reapply your sunscreen more frequently.
Clothing offers an excellent protective barrier. Also, make sure you have a hat and sunglasses. There are high chances that you won’t apply sunscreen to your hairline and you definitely won’t put it in your eyes! You want coverage for these delicate spots.
Sticking to the shade is also important. You will still get some sun on your skin, but it’s not direct. This can help limit some of the exposure and damage, while still getting the vitamin D intake benefits.
Look Out for Good Active Ingredients
Take a look at the ingredients list of anything you buy. This isn’t just about avoiding toxins but about getting a full list of active, protective ingredients. One of those that you’ll want to get is zinc oxide. This is a protective layer of the skin. Zinc helps the body naturally repair and is commonly used in diaper creams. Getting it in sunscreen will help to create a barrier and protect deeper layers from both types of UV rays.
It’s also worth looking out for titanium oxide and oxybenzone. These both offer similar protective layers to zinc oxide, helping to eliminate the UVA damage.
Only you can protect your skin fully. Getting the right type of sunscreen is the best thing to do. Don’t just opt for the highest figure you find. SPF 30-50 is the most effective option. You won’t become too complacent, but you offer protection for a full 2-3 hours, regardless of skin type. Make sure you reapply regularly and always look out for the creams that protect against both types of UV rays.