What is SPF?

Photo source: flickr.com user kellysue

What is an SPF, and why do I need it? The question has been asked time and again. Beauty skin care companies take great care to include SPF in many of their products. Even some makeup includes an SPF. But, why is it there, and do you really need it for healthy skin?

SPF Basics
The letters SPF stand for Sun Protection Factor. Most people assume that SPF applies only to the greasy sunscreens of youth, and therefore avoid beauty products that are formulated with an SPF. However, that idea could not be further from the truth.

Any product, from lotions, sticks and sprays, to mineral makeup, lip gloss and daily moisturizers, can include an SPF. Simply put, sun protection factor is just a measurement to let users know how much protection from the sun they can expect from that product. Some products don’t include any sun protection, while some have a very high SPF rating. It’s all in the formula.

The higher the SPF rating, the more the product protects against UVB rays, which are responsible for sunburns. The easiest way to understand SPF ratings is to imagine that your skin would get burned if exposed to one hour of unprotected time in the sun. If you were to wear an SPF 15 sunscreen, that time would be extended to 150 hours; that is, 15 times what your unprotected skin could stand.

This oversimplification works as a general rule; however, it is important to realize that all skin types and tones burn at different exposure levels, and that UV rays vary throughout the day. In addition, reapplication makes a huge difference, as does one’s activity level. Because of this, it is always a good idea to re-apply SPF products if you’re spending a lot of time in the sun.

One last note on SPF ratings in general. SPF only refers to protection against UVB rays. The sun also gives off UVA rays, which are responsible for the damage that causes premature signs of aging, hyperpigmentation, and even skin cancer. The damage of UVA rays won’t leave your skin red or painful, which makes it that much more dangerous — you won’t even know it’s happening. Therefore, you always want to look for a broad-spectrum sun protection product, which will protect the skin against both UVA and UVB rays.

Types of SPF
There are many ingredients used to protect the skin against the sun’s damaging rays. Mineral sunblocks, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, provide some of the best protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and do not degrade during wear. They are also natural skin care ingredients, making them a very popular choice.

Alternatively, there are chemical sunscreens, such as avobenzone, homosalate, and oxybenzone, which also provide good protection. However, they are chemical agents which degrade over time, demanding re-application.

No matter how you choose to protect your skin, you now know what SPF is and why you should use it. Research ingredients on your own to decide what’s best for you, and make sure to make adjustments for your personal skin type, complexion, and outdoor preferences.

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