SPF: Everything you need to know and all your questions answered 9 months ago

SPF: Everything you need to know and all your questions answered

So far, this summer has been one to go down in history as far as the weather is concerned.

Most of Europe have been battling an unprecedented heatwave for weeks, and while we are loving the warm weather and sunny skies, there is no denying that the sun's harmful UV rays are also playing havoc with our health.

In fact, according to a new study, us Irish are 14th most susceptible to skin cancer, with 859 melanoma-related diseases diagnosed per year, and there is little doubt, experts say, that this year's hot summer will have some serious knock-on effects.

Which means one thing, really – we all need to wise up when it comes to sun protection.

We recently had a little chat with the experts at VideoDoc, and got the low-down on SPF and what we all need to know:

What does SPF mean?

Many of us refer to SPF (which stands for Sun Protection Factor) without really knowing what it means. Skin normally starts to burn after about 10 mins in full sun without any protection. And the SPF number on your sunscreen represents how many more times skin will be able to stay in the sun before it burns.

Meaning, a 15 SPF sun cream would give you about 10 times the protection before you start to burn i.e. 150 minutes.

And this is why it is so important to reapply sunscreen frequently throughout the day – especially for children. In fact, according to dermatologists, reapplying every two hours is a good rule of thumb.

What are UVA rays?

SPF only tells us about protection against burning UVB rays, which are the rays that cause you to burn, but says nothing about UVA protection. For UVA, most products have a star rating - the higher the rating, the better the UVA protection.

For the record, UVA rays are the ones that penetrate the skin more deeply and are more likely to cause cancer and premature ageing. These rays may not cause visible sunburn, but it is actually really important to protect yourself and your family from these. According to the Centre for Disease Control, UV rays cause up to 90% of melanomas – the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

Do I have to wear SPF every day?

Yes. UVA rays are present during all daylight hours 12 months of the year and can even penetrate clouds and glass.

Why is it important to wear SPF?

The UVA rays play a major part in premature ageing of the skin and tissue damage and can cause cancer. How powerful the intensity of UVB rays does depend on the time of year and the location, but these rays cause sunburn.

Should I only use it on my face?

No, all exposed body parts should have SPF applied and most importantly the face. You can get face creams and make-up with SPF 15 but a minimum of 30 is recommended. Don’t waste your time with sunscreens that claim to contain factor 50 plus. According to the FDA, there’s no evidence such products provide better protection against harmful rays—and they may actually make us feel overconfident and less likely to reapply.

Who is most at risk?

Everyone should be sun safe but those most at risk for sunburn or UV damage are those with red or fair hair, those with pale skin, moles, freckles and those with blue green or grey eyes. And remember, the UV is as damaging at home as it is abroad.

What SPF should I use?

For children, it is a good idea to keep them out of direct sunlight or make sure they are wearing a hat when out and about in the sunshine and slather on sunscreen with a minimum of 30. A broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays with a minimum SPF of 30 is advisable.

Apply it liberally at least half an hour before going outside so it absorbs into the skin and don’t forget those ears and feet.

Read the back of it

Do check the ingredients list before buying a new sunscreen. Do look for the ingredients zinc, titanium dioxide, avobenzone and Mexoryl SX, all of which are powerful UVA blockers that remain on the surface of the skin instead of absorbing into the body. Don’t choose a product that includes ingredients that may affect hormones and/or are potentially carcinogenic, such as insect repellent, oxybenzone and vitamin A (retinyl palmitate).

Apply with care

Remember, to reduce the chance of developing skin cancer — or just ageing skin — it is extremely important to make sure that sunscreen is applied properly. No matter where you go, sunscreen can only do so much, so try to avoid long spells in the direct sunlight especially during the hottest hours of the day. Seek shade and cover up.