What Is SPF and How Does Sunblock Protect Your Skin?

Apple a Day Blog | May 24, 2018
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The Importance of Sunscreen

Who doesn’t love quality time out in the sun? Spending time outdoors is great for your overall well-being and state of mind. However, skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the US. It’s easy to forget about the importance of protecting your skin from the sun.

Sunscreen shopping is not as easy as it used to be. Do you ever wonder which sunscreen is best and what to look for in the ingredients? Unsure of how to select sunscreen for your family? We have you covered.

What Is SPF?

SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, measures how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from UV rays. Generally, the higher the SPF is, the more protection the sunscreen has. But there are a few important variables to keep in mind if you want the best sun protection. For example, higher-SPF sunscreens may not have as much UVA protection as lower-SPF sunscreens. Read the bottle – and the rest of this blog post! – to make sure you buy the right kind.

How Is SPF Determined?

SPF is determined by how much protection the lotion provides. The number indicates the amount of UV light that will reach your skin: SPF 30, for example, means that 1/30 of the sun’s harmful rays will reach the skin.

Remember, the SPF scale is not linear – SPF 30 isn’t twice as effective as SPF 15. SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of the harmful radiation, and SPF 30 blocks 97 percent. SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of the harmful rays – not significantly more than SPF 30. No matter the SPF number, some sunscreens don’t protect from the entire spectrum of UV rays.  

What Is the Best Sunscreen?

The best sunscreen is the one you use consistently and apply liberally. Sunscreen isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re sweating or going in and out of the water, you’ll want a different sunscreen than someone who is enjoying a good novel outdoors. However, any type of sunscreen is better than nothing.

Spray sunscreens may be convenient, but full coverage is hard to achieve with spray. Dermatologists recommend lotions rather than sprays to ensure the best coverage and protection.

How to Choose a Sunscreen

Look for a brand you like and will use regularly. If it smells funny or is too greasy, you’ll be less inclined to use it.

One thing you want to make sure is that your sunscreen is labelled “broad spectrum.” This means it blocks both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are the rays that cause sunburn, while UVA rays penetrate the skin and are linked to skin cancer and premature signs of aging. UVA-blocking ingredients include avobenzone, ecamsule, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

Always use sweat- and water-resistant sunscreens for the beach or exercise.

Do you have sensitive skin or want to avoid harsh chemicals? Look for titanium dioxide and zinc in the ingredients list. Don’t worry; you won’t have a ghostly white sheen, thanks to advances in technology. For an environmentally friendly choice, avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate; these ingredients can be harmful to coral reefs and other marine ecosystems.

How Does Sunblock Protect the Skin?

Think of sunscreen as a reflective lotion. The active ingredients in sunscreen reflect harmful radiation before it has a chance to reach your skin.

Sunscreen Isn’t Shade

Remember: No matter how much sunscreen you apply, you’ll still be exposed to the sun’s UV rays. No sunscreen can provide complete protection. You should wear a hat and long sleeves when possible or spend time in the shade if you’re concerned about UV exposure. (You should be!) Even if you don’t see sunburn or red skin, UVA rays can still damage your skin. And remember, the hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are the most hazardous for UV exposure outdoors in the continental United States. If possible, spend your time outdoors before or after those hours.

Sunscreen Best Practices

  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours.
  • Use about an ounce of sunscreen for full body coverage.
  • Always reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating.

Don’t let fear of sun exposure keep you from enjoying some fresh air. You can mitigate the risks associated with UV exposure by applying sunscreen properly and wearing protective clothing.

Want to learn more about getting the most out of your sunscreen? Watch this video to learn more!


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