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SPF: everything you need to know

As the sun is shining in England, now feels like a perfect time to share my wisdom on SPF. We all know that sun exposure can be harmful, yet in some instances, we’ll go without SPF in favour of a dark tan – it’s time for that to change. 

Common myths about SPF and skincare in the sun

1. You can apply your SPF just before you sit in the sun.

Wrong. The chemical filters which sunscreen contain take at least 20 minutes to react with your skin and become effective. Apply in advance! 

2.  Once you have a tan, you don’t need to worry about sun damage.

While darker skin can be more resistant to the sun’s rays, no matter how tanned you are, you still need protection. If you don’t protect your skin, years of exposure will lead to sunspots, open-pores and deep wrinkles. Even if you’re not burning, you are still damaging your skin. 

3. You only need to apply sunscreen once. 

If you’re spending an entire day under the beaming sun, one application of sunscreen is not enough. Sweat, water, sand and clothes can rub off your protection as the sun’s rays cause it to deteriorate. Always reapply.

4. Cover-ups will prevent you from burning.

While a cover-up provides a little protection, you should wear sunscreen regardless. According to reports, the typical thin white t-shirt has an SPF of just 7 – so, it’s not impossible to burn through your clothes.  

UVA and UVB rays 

There are several different types of rays present in sunlight. To avoid overcomplicating things, I’ll focus on UVA and UVB rays; both of which are ultraviolet rays. 

When it comes to sunburn, UVB rays are the culprits. UVB rays can be responsible for causing skin cancer, including malignant melanoma. 

UVA rays also play a role in skin cancer formation. UVA rays penetrate deeply into the skin, playing a role in premature ageing and wrinkle formations. UVA rays can travel through windows, clouds and screens. So, while you may not be in direct sunlight, you still need protection. 

In short, both UVA and UVB rays are bad news, so we need to protect our skin from both. 

The SPF you need 

SPF can be challenging to get your head around. Contrary to popular belief, the number of SPF doesn’t refer to time. Instead, the SPF number refers to the chemicals in your SPF product. 

A chemical SPF penetrates your skin to protect it. As mentioned before, you need to wait at least 20 minutes for these chemicals to work. 

In short, there’s no simple answer when it comes to sunscreens with a high SPF being more effective. However, a sunscreen’s SPF number does refer to the amount of UVB protection it provides. For example, if you’re using sunscreen with an SPF 30, it would take your 30 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen. 

While you can consider how long you’re protected from UBA rays for, you also need to think about UVA rays. Ideally, it would be best if you opted for a sunscreen with a high SPF protection and a broad-spectrum coverage – which protects you against UVA damage too. 

Chemical SPF vs physical SPF

Physical SPF, which typically contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide physically blocks the sun from your skin, reflecting the UV rays away from you. 

Chemical SPF allows your body to absorb the UV rays. The body then metabolises them into non-damaging wavelengths of light and/or heat. 

We should always use a physical SPF, while its sometimes heavier than chemical SPF, the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide creates a physical barrier protecting your skin from sun damage and its negative effects without causing any chemical harm.  

SPF for the planet 

You should consider an SPF that’s not only good for you but good for our planet. Harmful chemicals from sunscreen can damage coral reefs – so, please bear that in mind. For a reef-safe sunscreen, choose a mineral-based product using zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, avoiding anything containing oxybenzone.  

Here’s to taking care of our skin and our planet. Happy tanning.

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