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SPF, all of your questions answered

We can’t get enough of these long summer days, but as beautiful as the weather may be, it is always important to be responsible as the mercury rises and to make sure you are aware of how to be sun safe.  With this in mind, we’ve put together some important facts about being sun aware this summer.

  1. What does SPF mean?

Many of us refer to SPF (which stands for Sun Protection Factor) but do we really know what it means? Skin normally starts to burn after about 10 mins in full sun without any protection. The SPF number is how many more times skin will be able to stay the sun before it burns. A 15 SPF sun cream would give you about 10 times the protection before you start to burn i.e. 150 minutes. That’s why it is so important to reapply sunscreen frequently throughout the day – especially for children. Reapplying every two hours is a good rule of thumb.

  1. What are UVA rays?

SPF only tells us about protection against burning UVB rays, those which 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. UVA rays are the ones that penetrate skin more deeply and are more likely to cause cancer and premature ageing. These may not cause visible sunburn, but it is really important to protect yourself and your family from UVA rays. According to the Centre for Disease Control, UV rays cause up to 90% of melanomas – the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

  1. 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.

  1. Why it is 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Who is most at risk?

Dermatologist, Dr Emma Benson says nobody should take any chances when it comes to the effects of the sun; “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. This accounts for most of us! Remember, the UV is as damaging at home as it is abroad so cream up!”

  1. 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 forgot those ears and feet!  Do read the ingredients list before buying a new sunscreen. Do look for the ingredients zinc, titanium dioxide, avenobenzone 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). For more details on how you can stay sun safe, you can speak to our expert in Dermatology Dr. Brian McManus or any of our videoDoc doctors who are available online for detailed dermatology consultations.

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, sun screen 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!

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