What does “SPF” on Sunscreen Mean, Anyway?

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Ever wonder what type of sunscreen you should use when you’re at the beach?

Is higher SPF better for you than lower? Not necessarily.

Here’s what you need to know about SPF sunscreen and the beach. Head to the bottom for the busting of myths about sunscreen.

SPF = "Sun Protection Factor"

SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor,” and this is the scientific factor of time you can be in the sun without getting sunburnt by ultraviolet (UV) B rays.

Here’s the formula to help break it down:

Minutes to burn without sunscreen X SPF = maximum sun exposure time.

Here’s an example:

20 minutes X SPF 15 = 300 minutes before more sunscreen is needed.

Look for protection against UVB and UVA rays

These are two basic types of ultraviolet rays that reach the earth’s surface. These rays are responsible for sunburn, premature skin aging, skin spots, and the possible onset of skin cancer. You want protection against these two types of rays, so look for susncreens that will do this.

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Also, look for the ingredients "Titanium Dioxide" and "Zinc Oxide"

These ingredients protect against the full spectrum of UV rays the sun produces.

Take note, however, that Zinc Oxide is a much safer and more effective sunscreen than Titanium Dioxide based on physical chemistry and biological effects. So if you want your body to stay healthy, consider using Zinc Oxide over Titanium Dioxide.

Reapply every two hours

It’s best to reapply sunscreen every two hours — especially after swimming, sweating, drying off with a towel, or changing clothes — so you stay safe out in the sun. Water and sweat removes the foundation that protects your skin, so remember to reapply if you’ve been outside for a while.

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Busting myths about susncreen

There are a few widely-believed myths people believe about sunscreen. Here they are and the truth exposed.

Myth 1: Wearing higher SPF will protect me more when I'm in the sun

This is false because higher SPF is not scientifically proven to protect better against the sun’s UV rays. If anything, research has shown that it actually doesn’t do any better than lower SPF. In fact, research shows that it could do a worse job.

Myth 2: I'll use waterproof sunscreen and only have to apply once

This is false because there’s no such thing as a “waterproof” sunscreen. Companies label it as “water-resistant” to say it’s effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes when swimming or sweating. Sunscreen companies are required to state when to reapply in the bottle by the FDA.

Myth 3: I can use a bottle of sunscreen I bought three years ago

While you can use it, it won’t be effective. Susncreen loses it’s protection abilities after three years in a bottle. Use newly-bought sunscreen that will properly protect you from the sun’s rays.

Myth 4: I can lather my infant in sunscreen and they will be fine in the sun

Your infant should stay out of the sun as much as possible — especially between the times of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Infants’ bodies are not as mature as adults and function at warmer temperatures than adults. Their skin is more sensitive, too. All in all, it’s best to keep them out of the sun or cover them up instead of putting sunscreen on them.

For more information, see this FDA article: Should You Put Sunscreen on Infants? Not Usually

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