The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of a sunscreen is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect you from UV B rays. These are the rays typically responsible for sunburn and skin cancers. And that number indicated on the bottle? It serves as an indicator for the length of time you’ll be protected from the sun. For example, if you use an SPF 30 sunblock, it allows you to stay in the sun 30 times longer before you risk being sunburned. Remember that SPF is only protecting you from UV B rays, so opting for a broad-spectrum sunscreen is your best option. More on that later.
Though less intense than UV B, UV A rays are present throughout the whole year and can penetrate glass and clouds, making them difficult to escape. UV A also plays a major role in skin ageing (photoageing) which leads to fine lines, dull texture, discolourations and sometimes even skin cancer. While summer tans are desirable (and sometimes hard to avoid), it is really just the result of your skin’s defense against harmful UV A rays. Studies have shown that UV A penetrates the epidermis, damaging skin cells called keratinocytes. Why should this bother you? This is where most skin cancers are formed.
Back to UV B rays. UV B is most synonymous with redness, sunburn, and tanning – causing changes in colour to your skin. These rays penetrate the epidermal, or the outermost layer of your skin, which effects change in your skin’s cells (burning and bronzing) and may result even in pre-cancers. UV B intensity varies depending on the season and time of day which is why most experts recommend steering clear of sunlight between 10.00 – 15.00 during the summer. This is the time you should be seeking out shade instead of the lounge chair by the pool.
Are you wondering, “When will they get to the good news?” Wonder no more! There are ways to protect your skin and still enjoy being outside without the imminent threat of skin cancer lurking around every corner. Broad spectrum sunscreen protects against both UV B (associated with sunburn, skin damage, and skin cancer) and UV A (associated with skin ageing and discolouration). Experts typically recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen of 15 or higher for optimal coverage and protection. For more extended or intense sun exposure, SPFs of 30 or higher is recommended. Also, be sure to remember those easy-to-miss spots like your hands and fingers, the tops of your feet, and ears.
Now that you are no longer in the dark about the damages caused by UV A and UV B rays, be sure to have a safe and happy summer! Your future skin will thank you!
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