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Find the Right Sunscreen by Understanding SPF

Lady Applying Sunscreen

As the weather becomes milder and temperatures rise, people flock to the outdoors. Summer activities like swimming, biking, hiking, and picnics put your skin at risk of sustaining serious sun damage. Exposure to the sun's rays can cause premature aging, the development of hyperpigmentation, and even lead to the development of skin cancer.

If you want to protect your skin against the ravages of sun exposure, you will need to use a sunscreen with a powerful SPF. Understanding what SPF is and what it really does will help you select the sunscreen that is best suited to meet your outdoor protection needs.

What Is SPF?

SPF is an abbreviation for sun protection factor. Any product containing an SPF agent must go through rigorous testing in an indoor environment to determine the durability of the SPF.

Light-skinned subjects are exposed to a full spectrum light source that mimics the noonday sun (since this is often the time when the sun's rays are the most powerful). Some of the subjects are exposed to the light without a sunscreen, while others are slathered in various SPF-containing products.

Researchers then measure the amount of time required for the unprotected subjects' skin to turn red. Each sunscreen is monitored, and the longevity of the products recorded. This information helps define the SPF level in each sunscreen product.

What Do the SPF Numbers Mean?

If you look at sunscreens available in your local store, then you will see that these products are labeled with SPF ratings that range from 2 to 100. Consumers often think that the higher the number of the SPF rating, the more powerful the sunscreen product is. It's critical that you recognize SPF ratings are not a measure of strength, but a measure of time.

Sunscreens can extend the length of time that you can be exposed to the sun's rays without burning. A sunscreen with an SPF rating of 2 will provide you with the same amount of protection as a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 70, the protection just won't last as long. When compared with SPF 1, the SPF 2 sunscreen will protect you twice as long, while the SPF 70 sunscreen will protect you seventy times as long.

You will need to apply sunscreens with lower SPF ratings more frequently to avoid burning, but these products are just as effective at protecting your skin against sun damage. In other words, what makes the difference, is how often you re-apply the sunscreen.

What Is Full Spectrum Protection?

Basic sunscreen products are designed to offer you protection against UVB rays. These rays are responsible for burning your skin, and they contribute to the development of skin cancer over time. The SPF rating on sunscreen is an indication of the sunscreen's ability to protect you from UVB exposure, but you should also be concerned about another type of exposure.

UVA rays are found in direct sunlight. These rays don't contribute to a sunburn, so they can go unnoticed. Exposure to UVA rays can accelerate the aging process and compromise the elasticity of your skin.

For this reason, you should look for a sunscreen that offers a full spectrum or broad-spectrum formula, which will protect you from both UVB and UVA rays. Full spectrum sunscreen will provide maximum protection so you can enjoy your time in basking in the sunlight.

Protecting your skin against sun damage should be a priority as summer approaches. Understanding how SPF is tested, what SPF actually measures, and the limitations of an SPF's protection will allow you to select a sunscreen that will minimize skin damage caused by sun exposure.

Contact Associated Dermatologists for more information on protecting your skin with the right sunscreen this summer.