The facts about SPF

Monday, 27 August 2012

Facts about SPFWith the hot summer days winking on the horizon, people are already making plans to go on holiday, be more active, and keeping the kids busy during the holidays. Regardless of the type of activity you are planning, it will most likely include more time outdoors, and this brings up another popular summer topic: the use of sun protection.

What is SPF?

SPF might be a very common term, but it also has many people wondering what they should be looking out for, and how much protection they really need. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and it is a vital aspect when it comes to buying sunscreen.

SPF numbers start at 2 and go higher than 60. They indicate the theoretical maximum sun exposure time. For example, if you normally burn after 10 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen), then an SPF 30 will let you stay in the sun for up to 300 minutes without burning.

But in reality, we don’t use as much sunscreen compared to the laboratory tests; we sweat, we swim, and it gets rubbed off. The Cancer Society of South Africa recommends reapplying at least every two hours – also after swimming, exercising and towel-drying.

In addition, a higher SPF blocks out more UVB rays, so an SPF 15 is able to block about 93%, and an SPF 30 product will be able to block around 97%. Keep in mind that an SPF 60 product is only two percent more effective than an SPF 30 one.

How much protection do you need?

As a general rule, dermatologists recommend the use of an SPF 30 or greater all year round – yes, even in winter.

When it comes to the choice between a cream, an oil or a spray, just keep in mind that oils do not contain sufficient amounts of sunscreen and it would be necessary to re-apply very frequently.

Most people do not apply enough sunscreen. Experts recommend using at least 30ml per application – that’s 2 tablespoons, or a golfball-size portion.

Choosing the ideal sun block

Always choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that will protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. Of the two, UVB radiation is the most damaging of all, referring to the suns burning rays that are also the primary cause of skin cancer. UVA radiation refers to the ultraviolet rays that penetrate deeper into the skin, causing premature ageing and wrinkling. Ingredients that work well to protect against this type of radiation include oxybensone and sulisobenzone.

A few years back, most sunscreens contained PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) which had an irritating effect on many, especially those with sensitive skin. PABA has since been refined and newer ingredients have been added, making it much more effective without causing any side effects. Keep in mind that PABA only protects against UVB rays, which is why a broad-spectrum sunscreen is always recommended to ensure you are getting the best all-round protection.

Image: haveseen/

Written by

Lorien Strydom is a freelance copywriter and entrepreneur based in Pretoria, South Africa. Specializing in health and fitness topics, she aims at completing her master trainer certification while growing her copywriting business to a full-time profession.

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  1. Pseudo_kate

    I always have a small bottle of sunscreen in my handbag (by decanting from a larger bottle) and since I wear BB cream and primer with built in SPF, it’s not a concern. I always apply sunscreen to the back of my hands and repeat before I get into my car. It’s such a simple and easy habit to get into.

    6 years ago •

  1. NaturalDiva

    Such an important product to have in an effective beauty regime. Great article.

    6 years ago •

  1. Livvy

    Makes for good reading, educational.

    7 years ago •

  1. Maddy

    I use sunscreen religiously come rain or sunshine

    7 years ago •

  1. ricebunny

    yes i agree never leave the house without applying sunscreen esp to the face with a moisturizer with a built in spf

    7 years ago •

  1. gerrit

    I know this is necessary but i am guilty for not always using a good sunblock, thanks for the article very interesting.

    7 years ago •

  1. Zu

    SPF Most important beauty mantra for me.

    7 years ago •

  1. BeautyBloggess

    I’m super paranoid about using sunscreen. Always use the highest SPF I can find (50+) with UVA and UVB protection.

    7 years ago •

  1. Charles

    I always struggle to find a sunscreen to use on my face… it either leaves my skin greasy or causes a break-out :( So I try to use products with a built-in SPF, but those are often not sufficient in summer. Help!!!

    7 years ago •

  1. DIVA

    do I need to apply sunprotection cream if my make has SPF 15? I have a dark skin

    7 years ago •

  1. Mpbutterfly

    I am very lax when it comes to putting on sunscreen. I know the SPF 15 in my foundation is not enough. I just find the sunscreens so tick and feels like my pores are clogging.

    7 years ago •

  1. Noma

    I must confess that I only use SPF anything only in summer…

    7 years ago •

  1. Humphreys

    Great article. I swear by sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and higher as a daycream in both summer and winter.

    7 years ago •

  1. Angelisha

    Thanks for this important article!

    7 years ago •

  1. Sam

    Thank you for an informative article.

    7 years ago •

  1. Anita

    I am bad with my sunscreen, always forget to reapply.

    7 years ago •

  1. Azraa

    Thanks for the information. I wear sunblock all year round

    7 years ago •

  1. Rochelle Stewart

    Why even make a no 2!? Anything less than a 30 is a waste for me.

    7 years ago •

  1. Chicara

    I’m definitely guilty of not putting an SPF30 on during winter, but in Summer I definitely do. I have super pale skin and I burn quite easily.

    7 years ago •

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