SPF Demystified

We celebrate the summertime by being outside, taking in the sunshine, and basking in the warm temperatures. But as the old adage goes, “too much of a good thing” is often associated with negative consequences. Too much sunshine can lead to dry, itchy skin, sunburns, damage to the eyes, and in the worst case scenario, skin cancer. According to SkinCancer.org, 5 million people are treated for skin cancer every year in the US alone. Luckily for you and I, there’s something we can do about it.

One of the easiest and most effective preventative measures to fight skin cancer from the sun is the use of sunscreen. People have been using products to fight the harmful effects of the sun for thousands of years, but the first iteration of what we would consider “modern sunscreen” wasn’t seen until 1946.  Subsequently, SPF, or the Sun Protection Factor, was announced in 1974 and is now the international standard for determining the actual effectiveness of sunscreen.

The Numbers

Some of the very first sunscreens were estimated to have an SPF of a measly 2, but in the modern world this number can reach as high as 90+. While the general rule of thumb that “the higher number the better” isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s a little more complicated than that. SPF indicates the fraction of UV-Rays that actually reach the skin after application. For example, SPF 15 means that 1/15th of the burning radiation will reach the skin. If you’re still confused, simply speaking, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will be effective for 150 minutes if the person would develop a sunburn in 10 minutes time without any sunscreen at all.

We’re prone to sunburns due to two different types of harmful rays, which take a short amount of time to travel from the sun to the surface of the Earth. UVA, which is a long wave that stands for ultraviolet A, and UVB, which stands for short wave ultraviolet B, both harm the skin and can cause skin cancer if we receive too much of either. UVA rays “penetrate deep into the dermis, the skins thickest layer, causing premature aging and suppression of the immune system.” Once your immune system is at risk, so is the rest of your body. UVB rays, on the other hand, only come into contact with the surface of your skin, but are just as capable of causing damage. You’ve more than likely received a little too much sun on any particular day in your life and turned red – UVB rays are to thank for that. After enough overexposure to UVB, the surface of your skin can be considered permanently damaged.

According to an article written on WebMD, SPF appears to have diminishing returns, which means that while an SPF of 15 filters out 93% of UVB, an SPF 30 would only filter out 97% of UVB. Realistically, blocking 100% of UVB is impossible. For a majority of people, an SPF of 15-30 is perfectly acceptable.

No matter the SPF, however, people need to reapply their sunscreen after a certain amount of time. Applying it once before going out for the rest of the day is not sufficient protection against the sun’s powerful UVA and UVB rays. It’s recommended that you consult the label on your bottle to see when you need to reapply.

The ideal sunscreen would have an SPF of 15 to 30, perhaps more if you’re fairly pale or light-skinned, it would be resistant to being easily washed off by sweat or water, and it would block both UVA and UVB rays. Most modern brands carry sun lotions that meet this requirement, so go with your favorite!

Risks of Using Sunscreen

Yes, you read that correctly. There are actually a few risks associated with the use of sunscreen, albeit very mild. Vitamin D deficiency is a concern with people who use suntan lotion far too often while being under the sun, but this can be easily remedied by taking Vitamin D supplements, or more simply by exposing yourself to sunshine for 5-30 minutes without using a product.

Another risk of using sunscreen is the threat of associated chemicals piercing the skin, ironically causing cell damage – the very threat it was supposed to prevent in the first place. This occurrence is extremely rare, however, so we shouldn’t feel too alarmed. Modern sunscreens forego these unnecessary chemicals and are less likely to damage the user.

That’s Going to Peel

If you found this blog post just a little too late and didn’t properly apply sunscreen before your venture outside, that’s unfortunate but not the end of the world. If you’d like tips on how to properly and painlessly take care of a sunburn, look to our Twitter and Facebook pages, where you can find helpful advice endorsed by us here at Dr. Willards. If you want immediate relief, Dr. Willard’s also produces a premium, all-natural Aloe Gel that uses the very same patented CAW catalyst present in all our Dr. Willard’s products, which is absolutely fantastic for treating burned areas. It also soothes the skin and lessens irritations, which means a less stressful recovery for you. But remember, use sunscreen next time!


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