SPF Facts: What You Need to Know

SPF or Sun Protection Factor displayed on a sunscreen label ranges from 2 to as high as 50. This is referring to the product's ability to screen or block out the sun's harmful rays. Look for a sunscreen that is "waterproof" or "water-resistant," especially if you participate in outdoor physical activity.

Most dermatologists recommend an SPF of 15 or higher and the key is to apply all year, not just in the summer months. Using a cream, oil or lotion is a personal preference but keep in mind most oils do not contain sufficient amounts of sunscreen.

Choose a "broad spectrum" sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA radiation. You should also look for a formula meant to protect against ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, which is typically absorbed into the skin deeper. This can cause premature aging and wrinkling of the skin. 

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SPF Myths

  1. A little goes a long way

    • This couldn't be further from the truth. To get the best protection, you need to apply a thick layer. Most people do not apply enough, leaving the skin unprotected. If you fill a shot glass with sunscreen, that should be how much is applied to each area of the skin. All sunscreens need to be reapplied. Gel formulas tend to wear off more. 
  2. All sunscreens are created equal

    • This also is false. Pricier sunscreens do not mean better. Sunscreen comes in two categories: physical and chemical. Physical formulas are often thought to be better by dermatologists because they deflect radiation. On the other hand, chemical ones adsorb the sun's rays and create free radicals.

  3. One coat lasts all day

    • The key with sunscreen is to keep reapplying. One coat does not last you all day, especially if you're having a beach day. Many sunscreens need at least 15-30 minutes to soak in. At most, reapply every two hours. If you're swimming or working out like running outside, you'll need to reapply even sooner. Sunscreens also have expiration dates, this being a common reason for sunburn. Pay attention to the label. 

  4. Sunscreen can be mixed with other lotions etc.

    • These formulas are super sensitive, delicate and unstable. Mixing them with other products such as body lotion or oil can diminish the active ingredients that actually protect your skin from the sun. For things like applying makeup, be sure to apply the sunscreen first and make sure it's fully absorbed. 

  5. SPF is the ultimate protection

    • Sunscreen is just one part of a bigger sun protection plan. Many other protective behaviors are also needed such as seeking shade, wearing a hat to cover your face from long exposure. You should also avoid the sun during peak hours and do not tan intentionally. There is no such thing as a safe tan. Every tan is a sign of damage to your skin.