The importance of SPF protection. Part 2

Last week we talked about the history of SPF and why it’s so important. (Catch up here!) This week, we turn from theory to practice as we outline how you should use it, other ways to help protect you from the sun and what to do if your skin has already been damaged.

Who needs to wear it?

Absolutely everyone – even if you don’t burn easily. Yes, the fairer among you may be more at risk, but skin conditions – ranging from mild to severe – can affect anyone, no matter the skin tone. It’s important to note that everyone has their own cooking time, which is the SPF you’re using x the length of time it takes for you to burn. After this, your cells are still being damaged, even if you’re no longer burning.

How should you use it?

First things first, you must check the expiration date. Like everything else, the effectiveness of the product will deteriorate after this time. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of two to three years.

It’s also advisable to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure (as well as a significant top-up just before you venture out), so that the SPF has time to bind to the skin efficiently. Also, be generous with your application – the thicker the better – and reapply every two hours at the minimum – more if you’ve been swimming or sweating. Always check the bottle as some sunscreens are water-resistant, so will fare better under these conditions. While we’re on the subject, you should also look for the words ‘broad spectrum’ as this means it offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

A quick note on SPF moisturisers or other cosmetic products, such as SPF face creams, lip balms or powders: While these will provide some protection against the sun, they’re probably not going to be as resistant as a proper sunscreen, not to mention the fact that they almost certainly will not be applied as thickly, nor will they contain protection against UVA rays. So, will they be suitable if you’re just popping outside for a few minutes? Absolutely. A day at the beach? Certainly not.

family sitting under a tree

Image: NCinDC/Flickr

What else should you do to protect your skin from the sun?

  1. Wear protective clothing. Keep in mind that some garments, such as thin, light-coloured items, carry less UV protection than others. Hats are always a good idea, too – as are sunglasses.
  2. Throw shade. At the sun, that is. While you’ll still need to wear SPF, sitting under an umbrella or shady spot will offer more protection – especially during the hottest times of the day.
  3. Take extra care while swimming. It might seem as if you’re not getting burned, but actually the opposite is happening, due to the reflective nature of the water.
  4. Be aware of medicinal side effects. Some medicines may make you more sensitive to the sun, such as some antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and antifungals.
  5. Stay away from sunbeds. And sun lamps. And tanning salons (you get the point) as believe it or not, these actually contain more intense forms of UV radiation than natural sunlight.
  6. Limit sun exposure. Don’t be a slave to the sun – it will give you very little back in return.

dermapen 4 in use on female

What should you do if your skin has been damaged by the sun?

While you should always do everything you can to avoid sun damage, there are various treatments – proudly provided by us – that can help reverse the ill-effects:

  • IPL. Whether it’s pigmentation or visible capillaries that the sun has negatively caused, IPL – or intense pulsed light – is a great treatment option. Using light energy, which converts into heat, a whole host of unwanted marks on the skin will be cleared in a broad yet targeted fashion. Quick, easy, non-invasive and non-ablative. Read more here.
  • Microneedling. Is there anything the Dermapen can’t do? A minimally invasive cosmetic procedure, tiny pinpricks help coax the skin into shedding old skin and generating a new, fresher layer. It’s often used for anti-aging, also helping to reverse the negative effects of skin damage.

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We’re not suggesting for one second that you barricade yourselves indoors and never step foot in the sun again; it is, after all, vital in helping us produce Vitamin D, which carries a whole host of health benefits, such as helping the body to absorb calcium for stronger bones. But do be sensible with SPF and make sure you always choose the best sunscreen – your body, from top to toe, will thank you for it.

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The importance of SPF protection: Part 1

a finger pressing the top of a sunscreen bottle

Ok, we’ve been banging on about why it’s just so goddam imperative to wear sunscreen in almost every single blog we’ve written, but other than a short paragraph or cheeky reminder here and there, we haven’t really done it the justice it deserves. That’s why this week – and next – we’re focusing solely on SPF to tell you absolutely everything you need to know about sun protection.

What is SPF?

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? SPF – or Sun Protection Factor – is what it, er, says on the bottle: The strength of the barrier you’re slathering onto your skin. It ranges from two to 70 and works by absorbing, scattering or reflecting the light, depending on the type of sunscreen you use.

A short history lesson for you: Sunblock, in one shape or form, has been around for centuries. In fact, the Egyptians would use ingredients such as rice bran, jasmine and lupine, although their concern was less weighted towards health and more for cosmetic purposes.

Many other methods were attempted over the years before everything changed in 1938, thanks to a Swiss chemistry student named Franz Greiter who decided to come up with a proper solution once and for all after getting sunburnt himself while climbing Mount Piz Buin (the diligent among you will perhaps recognise this popular suncare brand – well, that was the brand he created, containing both UVA and UVB filters. Clever, eh?).

The genius of SPF, however, did not come along for another few years and must be attributed to another dude named Rudolf Schulze.

And now for some maths: SPF measures a sunscreen’s effect against UV rays, so while an SPF of 15 may allow you to stay in the sun for up to 150 minutes without burning, you may not burn for up to 300 minutes with an SPF 30. For further comparison, SPF 30 allows approximately 3% of UV rays to hit your skin, whereas SPF 50 allows 2% – a whopping 50% less. However, the general advice – no matter what factor you’re using – is to reapply regularly – especially as sunburn is by no means the only thing SPF protects against.

Image: Robin Jay

Why is it so important?

Quite simply, sunscreen protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays – UVA and UVB – especially important in today’s age of climate change, where the earth’s natural shield – the ozone layer – is not as thick as it once was, meaning natural protection from the sun is heavily compromised.

UVB is what causes the obvious effects of unprotected exposure to the skin, such as sunburn, whereas UVA is more of a silent assassin, penetrating deeply to cause things like premature aging (in the form of wrinkles and the like), as well as a whole host of other skin conditions which rely on elastin. Vitally, both types can cause skin cancer, and with research continuing to show that applying sunscreen daily (yes, even in winter) drastically reduces your chances of falling prey to this disease, it really should be a staple in your handbag.

The reason it’s just as important in winter as it is in summer is simple: UV rays – particularly UVA – are not only harmful all year round but can also penetrate glass, meaning you could be exposed even from the comfort of your car or office. In fact, the more blistery the conditions, the more harmful the sun can be, as UV rays are multiplied by the reflective nature of snow.

Of course, sunscreen for the face is vital if you want to retain a youthful, healthy and vibrant look (especially because the sun can worsen already-existing skin conditions, such as rosacea – read more about that here), but due to the serious effects the sun can have all over your body, it really is important to make sure you’re always fully covered.

A final note

When it comes to SPF, the number you see on the bottle refers to the protection it offers from UVB rays. You’ll want to look for the UVA star rating for an indication of this protection, too. Unsurprisingly, the higher this rating, the better.

A final note, that you may not want to hear: While we’re all guilty of tan worshipping, achieving a ‘healthy glow’ via sunbathing is just physical evidence that you’ve damaged your skin (gulp.). This is because after you’ve been exposed to the sun, your body produces more melanin (the dark pigment that gives your skin its colour) in an attempt to absorb – and, thus protect – from UV radiation.

Tune in next week for practical tips on how to prevent sun damage and what to do if your skin is already showing some signs of wear and tear!

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