Skincare

SPF: What Is It, and How Does It Protect You?

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Image: Shutterstock/Twin Sails

Whether it’s by the pool or on the beach, a main concern, especially in summer conditions, is making sure your skin is taken care of. From your head to your toes, it’s important to protect any exposed part of your body. While the ideal preventative measure would be to expose yourself to the sun less, that’s simply not possible, and far less fun. Not only should you be aware of what level of SPF you’re using based off of your skin type, but you should also make sure you’re applying at the appropriate frequency in order to assure that protection.

There are two classifications of sun protection, the first being physical. Physical sunscreens protect and deflect UV rays from reaching the skin. Two main ingredients in physical sun protection are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The second type of sunscreen is chemical, which actually absorbs UV rays in order to stop them from actually penetrating the skin. Chemical sunscreens include oxybenzone, octyl methoxycinnate, octylate salicylate, mexoryl and PABA.

The sun’s protection factor, SPF, is a quick way to reference how well the sunscreen will actually defend your skin from the rays. SPF is also a measure of the amount of UV radiation that would cause your skin to burn without using sunscreen. Unfortunately, with each individual, the length of time that a sunblock will actually do the “blocking” job depends on several important factors. First and foremost, it’s quintessential to apply a healthy portion of sunblock on that beautiful canvas of skin. Additionally, if you sweat, that sunscreen is going to sweat out as well, so there will be a need for re-application much sooner than one might assume. Finally, if you’re swimming in any setting, and you towel off after, make sure you do a good job from top to bottom so you don’t lose any protection. The rule of thumb, no matter the SPF level, is to re-apply every 2-3 hours, to assure the ultimate protection.

With that information, what does it mean when you’re shopping for summer essentials and you’re staring at twenty differently brightly colored bottles with a variety of numbers on the front? To be quite honest, anything over an SPF 50 is not going to be worth your time. As long as you are re-applying in the proper time frame, you are assuring your skin the ultimate protection. Do not forget the sensitive and often forgotten areas of your hands, your neck, and ears. It’s easy to remember your legs, arms, and the back, but you don’t want to be sloppy with application and regret it with a major uncomfortable burn later!

Skin cancer rates are rapidly increasing, so why not prevent that with an extra dose of SPF in your day? Even if you’re not swimming or sunbathing, there are lotions and moisturizers galore with SPF included in the formula, so you can be safe before even leaving the house. Your skin is the largest organ you have, take care of it while having a sunny summer (or end of one!).