Editor’s note: A personal thank you goes out to one of our new volunteer writers, Susie Garza, who authored this article.
What Does SPF Mean to You? The question is easy, right? SPF is the abbreviation for Sun Protection Factor, the number you find on sunscreen. But did you know that SPF varies from person to person? What does SPF actually mean to you individually, and how can you use the number to help keep you from getting sunburned or more importantly from developing skin cancer?
The word “factor” is the key in determining how to choose the right sunscreen for you. If you remember back to elementary math class, a factor is a number that you multiply with another number to get a product. So, for example, a sunscreen with the SPF of 30 will allow you to stay in the sun 30 times the amount of time that it normally takes you for your skin to start to burn. The June 2016 edition of Good Housekeeping Magazine quotes Steven Q. Wang, Head of Dermatology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, NJ as recommending “high-SPF sunscreen for summer because people tend to underapply it.” Sounds simple, but there are a number of other considerations that you need to keep in mind in order to make sure that you are keeping your skin safe in the sun.
For starters, it is very important that you apply sunscreen before you get outside. Sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before you get out in the sun. It is best to apply it in front of a mirror so you don’t miss any spots like ears, toes, underarms or the back of your neck! Also, make sure to get help with applying it on areas that are hard to reach like your back and shoulders. Many sunscreens are sweat or water resistant; however, if you do sweat or go swimming, you need to make sure to reapply carefully as soon as you get out of the water or finish exercising. If you plan to be out in temperatures that are hotter than 100 degrees, then it is best to cover up by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeved shirt or other swim or sun covers that will allow you extra protection for your arms and legs. There are products that you can purchase that are made from materials that have sun protection (SPF) built in, and sunglasses that protect your eyes from UV rays are important protection as well.
Certain medications may make you more susceptible to the sun. If you are taking medicines like antibiotics, NSAIDS, diuretics, and retinoids your photosensitivity may be increased which could result in phototoxicity. (For a full listing of medications and other helpful information, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation website). If you take these medicines, you may need to avoid being out in the sun all together and/or make sure that you use sunscreen very carefully. If you are taking medications and plan to be in the sun, make sure to read the literature that accompanies your medication carefully or talk to your pharmacist about how your medication may react to sun exposure.
Keep in mind that every time you are out in the sun, not just the times you are at the pool or on the golf course, you are exposed to the sun’s UV rays. Incidental sun exposure including walking to your car from the grocery store, hand watering your flower bed or simply going to the mailbox can cause your skin to be affected by the sun’s UV rays. This daily exposure causes your skin to age more quickly. It is, for this reason, cosmetic companies have begun to put sunscreen in their products including hand lotions, facial lotions, foundation, and lipsticks or lip balm. Most of these products have lower SPFs than sunscreen; however, they can be helpful in protecting your skin from incidental sun exposure. If you don’t already have a daily sunscreen regimen, you may want to consider adding one.
Protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays really is not very difficult. It’s simply a matter of planning. When you know that you are going to be out in the sun, make sure that you use sunscreen or protective clothing to keep from getting overexposed. When you avoid painful sunburns and premature aging, your skin will thank you.
It’s also vital to stay hydrated out in the heat. Click here for tips.