SPF, UVA rays and UVB rays explained
Most of us have heard of SPF protection and do apply it when flocking to the beach or park in high temperatures, but do we really understand what it is and are we using the right level of protection at the right times? Also what are UVA and UVB rays and does the difference matter? In this article we tackle the usual FAQ’s and cut through the ambiguity.
What is SPF?
SPF simply stands for ‘sun protection factor’, but what does this actually mean and when/how much do we need? Before we answer the question, let’s ensure we understand exactly what it protects against.
The sun is a miracle of nature; it provides heat and light, energy for our plants, generates our weather patterns and much more. Sunlight does however emit ultraviolet radiation that can be harmful to our skin if we don’t protect ourselves adequately.
This radiation consists of different types of rays; UVA and UVB being the ones most of us have heard of. The difference between UVA rays and UVB is the wavelength; UVA rays have the longest wavelength whilst UVB rays have a medium wavelength.
Some UVB rays are absorbed by the Earth's ozone layer so most of the rays you come in contact with are UVA, but it's important to note that both types of radiation can harm your skin.
Why Do I need SPF and When do I Need SPF Protection?
We need to protect our skin from the radiation to minimize the risk of sunburn and as you might have guessed, skin cancer. Too much UV radiation can damage the DNA in your cells and this is what can lead to cancer.
UVB is responsible for the majority of sunburns whilst UVA penetrates deep into the skin leading to unwanted skin aging. Whilst UVA is responsible for fewer sunburns, together with UVB it significantly increases your overall risks.
According to Cancer Research, in the UK almost 9 out of 10 cases of melanoma, the most serious type of cancer, could be avoided by enjoying the sun safely and avoiding sunbeds. Also getting sunburn just once every 2 years can triple your risk of melanoma skin cancer.
Simply put, you really need protection whenever you are exposed to the sun’s rays, even if this is every day, and regardless of how many degrees it is outside. You can’t feel UVA rays (heat comes from infrared rays) so you can still damage your skin on days that are cool.
The protection is needed for any part of your body that will be exposed to the sun which will nearly always include your face. This is where the SPF protection comes in; it extends your skin’s natural defences against the sun’s rays.
In fact, the Skin Cancer Foundation claims that regular daily use of SPF 15 sunscreen can reduce your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40% and lower your melanoma risk by 50%. Why would you not want that? See our diagram below for a visual representation of SPF, UVA and UVB rays.
Bear in mind that radiation does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter about your age, sex or skin colour. Make sure your children are protected, even if only 3 months old, and don’t believe the myth that dark skin needs protecting less than pale skin. You need to be protected from radiation no matter what your skin tone or complexion.
What does the SPF number mean?
This can sometimes be misunderstood. The number actually tells you how many times more protection you have from reddening of the skin in the sun. For example, factor 30 gives you 30 times more protection than not wearing any sunscreen at all.
The exact amount of time this protects you for depends on how long your skin would take to redden under the circumstances. SPF 30 is widely recommended as the minimum amount of SPF to use on all outdoor activities and it is also recommended that it should be reapplied every 2 hours for optimum protection.
What SPF inclusive products should I buy?
Luckily there are lots of sun protection options available, many from reputable companies and to suit various budgets. Our recommendation would be to look for products that contain broad spectrum protection which will mean you are shielded from both UVA and UVB rays.
Look for at least factor 30 and above and don’t forget to reapply regularly. The exact type of product you look to buy may come down to personal preference and the level of exposure you will be having to the sun’s rays.
At The Unknown we will be included broad spectrum SPF 30 in our signature men's moisturizer so that you have the convenience of skin care, hydration and spf protection in one product.
Share your email address with us in our footer below to stay updated on when this and our other premium men's skin products become available to buy.
I hope this article cleared up your questions about SPF but feel free to share your comments and questions with us below.