What Does Sunscreen SPF Mean – Sun Protection Factor

It is very easy to get confused and overwhelmed by the enormous number of sun protection products out in the market today. Some are waterproof, some sweat proof, some strong, some weak, some especially for children, and even some especially for athletes. These sun protection products are available in all sorts of forms such as cream, oil, lotion, tanner and bronzer and will all help to keep your skin protected from the harsh rays of the sun.

These sun protection products normally come with numbers with them like SPF 10, SPF 15, SPF 45. Ever wondered what the numbers are about? This is the SPF value, or sun protection factor, which goes as low as 2, for products that won’t protect your skin at all, to as high as 50 or even above, for super sun protection. There are very few people who understand where this number comes from and what it means, so here’s a brief explanation.

DermTV - What Does SPF Mean [DermTV.com Epi #193]

What is SPF Sun Protection Factor

SPF is a comparison between the times it will take for the skin to begin reddening with and without protection. Take this for example: if you are in the sun with no protection on, it will take 30 minutes for your skin to redden; if you were wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 10, it would 30 times longer (5 hours) for your skin to redden. The higher the SPF, the longer it will last for. However, once you go above about SPF 15, the time goes up in smaller increments.

This is the theory, but in reality it works slightly different to this, regardless of the SPF value. This is because of issues like uneven application, perspiration and swimming. Sweat and water are the main problems as it significantly reduces a sunscreen’s effectiveness so it is important to re-apply sunscreen regularly. Also, it is important that the first application of sun protection is done approximately 15 minutes before you go out in the sun. This allows the sunscreen good time to sink into your skin, and means you will be protected as soon as you go out.

What SPF Should I Use

Most people find that sunscreen or lotion with SPF 15 gives more than adequate protection provided that it is reapplied regularly. This is for normal skin types, but you may need something higher if you have light skin, have light colored or ginger hair, or are going to a tropical climate or a high altitude. If, on the other hand, you have dark skin you will likely be safe with a lower SPF. Remember that a higher sun protection factor does not give more protection; it just lasts longer.

Sun Protection Factor Products

Fake tanning lotions and bronzers are better ways to give your skin color, as you are not being exposed to UV rays that will eventually damage the skin, and tanning beds should be avoided. But be aware that these products will not protect you from the sun, apart from if it specifically says so and gives its SPF. Remember, though, even if a lotion or bronzer does have a sun protection factor, it will only last for the given time, not until the tan wears away several days later.