Here’s a simple guide to SPF, UVA, UVB and tips on how you can protect your skin from the sun.
When it comes to protecting ourselves from the sun, it’s important to understand why sun protection is so important for everyone, every day.
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Let’s break it all down and eliminate any confusion regarding sun protection. We often see acronyms on our skin care products, cosmetics and clothing, but do you know what they mean?
- SPF = Sun Protection Factor
- UVA = Ultra Violet A (long wave)
- UVB = Ultra Violet B (short wave)
To protect our skin, we need to be aware of the damaging effects of UVA and UVB rays from the sun. They are two very different types of radiation, but both can harm your skin.
To make it simple, remember UVA — A for Ageing, as these are the rays that age your skin. And, think UVB — B for Burning, as these are the rays that burn your skin.
UVA rays cause skin ageing
UVA rays are responsible for skin ageing and wrinkling and can contribute to skin cancer. Because UVA rays pass easily through the ozone layer, they make up the majority of sun exposure. UVA rays can pass through clouds, glass and clothing. You might not be able to feel them, but they are there!
UVB rays cause sunburn
UVB rays are responsible for sunburn and cataracts. Most importantly, UVB rays also contribute to skin cancer.
SPF lets you know how long you can stay in the sun
Sun Protection Factor (or SPF) reflects the fraction of UVB rays that will reach your skin. For instance, SPF 15 means 1/15th of UVB rays will reach your skin. This gives you an idea of how long you can stay in the sun before your skin starts to burn. And everybody is different!
SPF only applies to UVB rays. It does not apply to UVA rays. Here’s how SPF works: for the sake of easy maths let’s say that your skin will start to burn when exposed to the sun in just 10 minutes. You take that 10 minutes and multiply it by the SPF number you are using.
For example, if you are using an SPF 30 product:
– 10 minutes x 30 (SPF) = 300 minutes
– Take the 300 minutes and divide by 60 minutes which equals 1 hour
– 300 minutes / 60 minutes = 5
– The result: around 5 hours of standard sun protection
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Remember — this doesn’t mean that you can apply your SPF 30 once and expect to be protected for 5 hours. It means that if you follow the recommended application instructions on the bottle, you will be protected from UVB rays for 5 hours (this usually involves reapplying a certain amount of sunscreen every 2 hours).
If you’re at the beach or in direct sunshine for extended periods, then always err on the side of caution with sunscreen and your chosen SPF. It’s important to not have a false sense of security when it comes to your sunscreen.
Many products are not water resistant, so you wouldn’t be able to rely on 5 hours of protection if you were swimming or exercising. At the beach or while sporting in the sun, you need to apply, apply and reapply.
Remember to read the indications and warnings on sunscreen labels to understand the benefits and limits of sunscreen products.
Top sunscreen tips
- Always apply sunscreen, whatever the season.
- When buying sunscreen products always look for “broad spectrum protection” on the label to make sure you’re protected against both UVA and UVB rays.
- The proper amount of sunscreen for your body is about 30ml which is just enough to fill a shot glass. And you need a teaspoon (5 grams) of sunscreen just for your face.
- Apply sunscreen at least 15 to 20 minutes before going into the sun. If your skin is already red from the sun, the damage has already started.
- It’s important to protect every exposed area of the skin including your ears and any bald spots.
- Wear protective clothing like long sleeved shirts, long pants and wide-brimmed hats.
- Wear sunglasses that provide UVA and UVB protection. Not only can your eyelids burn, but exposure to UVB rays can lead to cataracts.
- Don’t think you’re protected in your car or looking out a window — the sun’s rays can penetrate glass, so protect yourself even if you’re not in direct sunlight.
- Make a habit of reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Stay out of the sun during the hottest hours of the day and seek the shade as much as possible.
The sun is a wonderful thing that we all enjoy, but the facts are the facts. Unprotected sun exposure is the leading cause of skin ageing and skin cancer. We must protect ourselves each and every day to ensure we live long and healthy lives — while looking fabulous!
Thanks to Jacquie Carter, beauty expert and Director of Outer Nutrition at Herbalife, for this great info about sunscreen.