Many people around the world spend thousands on skincare and treatments but fail to realise the importance of Sun Protection Factor (SPF). It's a complete waste of money to spend on so many products if you're not going to apply SPF after your skincare routine. Dermatologists worldwide continuously emphasise the need for SPF at the end of your skin routine, but why? Keep reading below to find out why SPF is essential and to learn some new terms along the way.
SPF is not a simple moisturiser; it helps protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays. If one does not apply SPF, your skin can suffer from sun damage. The effects of sun damage can be long term and even dangerous. Sun damage can cause a variety of skin issues. It can speed up the ageing process by causing premature lines, wrinkles and sunspots. It can also cause brown spots, hyperpigmentation and burnt skin. If the sun penetrates your inner skin layers, the effects can be detrimental. Your skin cells can become significantly damaged and may even cause skin cancer.
Nonetheless, there are people out there that still downplay the role of SPF in our everyday lives. SPF is a necessity way beyond the summer months. If you're not applying it during rainy and cloudy days, you expose your skin to some serious damage and radiation.
What is SPF?
According to the NHS, sun protection factor (SPF) is a measure of the amount of ultraviolet B (UVB) protection. There are three main types of UV's that are harmful to the skin: UVA, UVB and UVC. UV, type B is the middle energy between the UVA and UVC. UVB rays are short UV wavelengths (280mm – 315mm) associated with skin burn. SPF is rated on a scale of 2 to 50+ based on the level of protection they offer. SPF's 50 and over are the strongest form of UVB protection.
UVB vs UVA
Let's take a look at how UVB protection works. A sunscreen with SPF 30 would protect the skin from burning for about 30 times longer, an estimated 300 to 600 minutes. Regardless of how high the SPF number is, sunscreen must be reapplied every two to four hours. This is especially true if you plan to go for a swim.
While many sunscreens focus on the protection against UVB, there are many different types of rays present in sunlight. The two main types of ultraviolet rays that reach the Earth's surface are UVB and UVA. UVA is a long UV wavelength that infiltrates the skin, which causes premature ageing. UVA accounts for about 95% of the UV light that reaches our skin; thus, it's essential to find a sunscreen that fights against both. Note: Sunscreens that fight against both UV rays are labelled under "broad spectrum".
PA Rating System
As previously mentioned, SPF measures UVB protection. So, what measures UVA protection? The PA rating system does. The PA rating system was established in Japan by the Japan Cosmetic Industry Association and is derived from the Persistent Pigment Darkening or PPD method. The PPD method measures how the colour of one's skin changes to brown after UVA exposure. It should be noted that this process has one major flaw: not everyone's skin turns brown after being exposed to the sun. In addition, only five countries measure UVA testing: Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and Australia.
Nonetheless, this method is useful because the UVA damage usually goes unseen, unlike UVB damage.
Here is the PA rating system:
PA+ = Some UVA protection.
PA++ = Moderate UVA protection.
PA+++ = High UVA protection.PA++++ = Extremely High UVA protection.
Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen
Now that you know the basics of what SPF is and what it protects against let's talk about preventive measures. Yes, SPF is a preventative measure in itself; however, there are different types of sunscreens to choose from.
There are two main types of sunscreen: mineral and chemical. Both of these sunscreens are helpful for the skin but have different functions and active ingredients.
Mineral sunscreen, also known as a physical sunscreen, often includes two main active ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Mineral sunscreens create a barrier on the skin that helps block and reflect UV rays away from the skin. Mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin's surface. This type of sunscreen can be used by all skin types and is best for people with sensitive skin and those who have concerns over long-term exposure to chemicals. Some mineral sunscreens tend to feel heavier than chemical sunscreens, so oily and acne-prone skin should do a patch test in a small area first. Moreover, it should be noted that most mineral sunscreens leave a white cast.
Chemical sunscreens are entirely different. Some of the main ingredients found in chemical sunscreens are; oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. As opposed to mineral sunscreens which sit on top of the skin, chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays before they can cause damage to the skin. After absorbing into the skin, chemical sunscreens convert the UV rays into heat. Chemical sunscreens tend to be thinner than mineral sunscreens, so less product is needed for protection. We recommend those with extremely sensitive skin to do a patch test first in a small area of the face. This is to test out and ensure your skin can handle the sunscreen with no issues.
Choosing the right sunscreen for you is dependent on your skin needs. It should be noted that not all sunscreens work for everyone, and the skin often reacts differently to both sunscreen types. Make sure you patch test and choose the best one for you.
Example of the UV Index in the UK. Via the Met Office UK.
Besides choosing the right SPF, there're two more steps you can take to maximise your protection from the sun: checking the ultraviolet (UV) index and wearing protective clothing.
The UV index is an international scale that measures ultraviolet radiation at different times and locations of the day. This scale is helpful because it demonstrates the sunlight's current intensity and allows you to take the necessary precautions to help reduce the impact UV rays can have on your skin and overall health. In the United Kingdom, the UV index is usually utilised during the summer months. The Met Office claims that the peak is generally late June, but this is dependent on weather conditions.
Below is the UV index scale, according to the Met Office. In the United Kingdom, the UV index is approximately 8. Note: A UV index of 0 usually indicates nighttime.
Want to check out the UV Index of today’s weather? Here are some links to check the UV Index in the UK online: Weather Online and Met Office. Here is a link to download the World UV app for your IOS and Android phones, watches and tablets: Euro Melanoma.
Wear Protective Clothing
Sunscreen and the UV index can only do so much. Sun protection comes in different forms. To help protect your skin when you're outside, maximising your wardrobe is key. On sweltering days, wear long-sleeve shirts, pants or skirts. It is recommended to wear dark colours because darker clothing tends to keep UV rays from reaching the skin by absorbing them instead of allowing them to penetrate your skin—moreover, the construction of your clothing matters. Denser clothing, such as denim, wool and synthetic fibres, are more protective from the sun than thinner cloth. Loose clothing is also recommended since tight clothes can stretch and tear, allowing UV rays to pass through clothing.
Besides a nice amount of SPF, a large hat will help keep the sun away from your face. Sunglasses are also necessary for the protection of the eyes. Long-term exposure to UV rays increase the risk of eye damage and issues. These eye issues include, but are not limited to, cataracts, corneal sunburn, and macular degeneration.
Although this article has advised you of the potential dangers of the sun, let's not forget about all of the benefits the sun has. When sunlight hit our skin, it triggers the production of Vitamin D. Vitamin D has many benefits for overall health. It has anti-inflammatory properties, aids in muscle health and improves brain function. Remember, the sun is necessary for our health, in moderation. Just don't forget the SPF. Hopefully, this article helps you understand why SPF is essential and guides you to take the adequate steps needed to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays.
Best sunscreens for your face:
ABIB Quick Sunstick Protection Bar
ABIB'S Quick Sunstick is the perfect sunscreen for on the go. It's a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 50+ and a high PA rating. This sunscreen comes in a bar/stick format and helps evenly distribute sunscreen across your face. It absorbs into your skin, even when applied multiple times. After application, it leaves your skin refreshed and ready for makeup.
Key ingredients to look out for: Acacia Peptides, Ceramides and Centella Asiatica Extract.
- Acacia Peptides strengthens the skin barrier and stimulates collagen production.
- Ceramides strengthen your skin’s barrier and help the skin retain moisture. They also protect the skin from environmental aggressors.
- Centella Asiatica Extract boosts antioxidant activity strengthens the skin and increases blood circulation.
This sunscreen is best for those who don't want to touch their face when reapplying their sunscreen.
Blithe UV Protector Honest Sunscreen
BLITHE'S UV Protector Honest Sunscreen is a broad-spectrum, mild sunscreen with an SPF 50+ and PA++++. This sunscreen is formulated with six naturally derived ingredients. They use EWG verified ingredients, which moisturise and restore the skin's pH. Blithe's sunscreen is free from twenty types of controversial chemicals. It is suitable for all skin types, including pregnant women. It's also reef safe.
Key ingredients to look out for: UV filters, Banana fruit extract and Melon fruit extract.
- DiethylaminoHydroxybenzoyl Hexyl Benzoate, EthylhexylTriazone, Bis-EthylhexyloxyphenolMethoxyphenylTriazine (UV filters) is a combination of chemical (organic) UV filters which keep your skin protected during the sunniest of days.
- Banana Extract protects skin against UV damage while smoothing the skin. It also promotes collagen production and is necessary for bright, healthy skin.
- Melon Fruit Extract protects skin against free radical damage and pre-mature ageing. It also speeds up the healing of damaged skin and aids in break-put prevention. It’s a natural skin moisturiser, which gives skin a radiant glow.
This sunscreen is best for those have dry skin.
Takeaway: SPF should always be in your skincare routine, no excuses. Every single one of these sunscreens is amazing at protecting your skin. They all offer various ingredients that we're sure your skin will love. Which one of these sunscreens tickles your fancy? Let us know below!
- Selena A (@lunabeautyuk)