The facts about SPF

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/

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24 Responses

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

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

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

  4. 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!!!

  5. 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.

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