Ultraviolet light is invisible to the naked eye since it has a shorter wavelength when compared to visible light. There are two types of rays within the UV spectrum that can damage the DNA in skin cells which is why it is important to protect against both:
- UVB rays: These rays are the main cause of sunburns playing a key role in the development of skin cancer. The SPF number indicated on any sunscreen denotes the amount of UVB protection that it offers.
- UVA rays: These rays cause skin damage that leads to tanning, skin aging as well as wrinkles. Shorter UVA rays can also contribute to sunburn. When picking out a sunscreen product, it is vital to check that its ingredients protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
The Significance Of SPF Number
The SPF number isn’t an exact representation of how long it takes for the sun’s UV radiation to redden the skin while using a product exactly as directed versus the amount of time without any sunscreen. The general understanding is that a sunscreen with SPF 30 would take 30 times longer to burn when compared to not applying sunscreen at all.
An SPF 30 allows approximately 3 percent of UVB rays to hit the skin, while an SPF of 50 allows about 2 percent of those rays through. This might seem like a small difference, but the reality is that SPF 30 allows 50 percent more UV radiation through.
Under ideal conditions, a sunscreen with higher SPF protection and broad-spectrum coverage offers more protection against sunburn, UVA damage, and DNA damage when compared to products with lower SPF values. In reality, however, products with very high SPFs create a false sense of security. People who use them tend to stay out in the sun, skipping out on reapplying. They also seem to think that they don’t need to seek shade, wear a hat, or cover up with clothing. This results in a lot of UV damage which defeats the purpose of applying sunscreen.
Ideal SPF For Sunscreen
People who have a history of a high risk of skin cancer, genetic diseases such as albinism, or xeroderma pigmentosum or certain immune disorders might not be protected by SPF 50. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the use of a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for any extended outdoor activity. Regardless of the SPF, though, it is important to apply one ounce, two tablespoons 30 minutes before going outside and reapplying it every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.
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