How Sun Protection Factor (SPF) Works
We all recognise the importance of protecting skin with SPF products. But understanding how they actually work is a little more complicated. In this article, we’ll explain what SPF is, how long it lasts and the different types of sunscreen available.
UVA and UVB Rays
The sun's radiation consists of UVA and UVB rays, which damage the skin in different ways. UVB rays only reach the skin’s surface and cause sunburn, while UVA rays can penetrate deeper into the skin and cause DNA damage.
Sun Protection Factor
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) measures how much UVB protection a product provides skin. A higher SPF blocks more of the sun’s rays. A product containing SPF 30 will protect skin from almost 97% of the sun's UVB rays (when applied liberally). The SPF is a guide to how long you can stay in direct sunlight before your skin starts to burn.
To work this out, you’ll need an idea of how many minutes it takes your skin to turn pink without sun protection. If you normally burn after 10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure , you multiply that number by the SPF rating that you are using. That is how long your sun protection will last. For example, if you burn after 10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure and you are wearing SPF 30 you will get 5 hours of sun protection (10 minutes x 30 = 5 hours).
While UVB rays are responsible for visible sun damage, you also need to protect skin from UVA rays. UVA rays are present all year-round, whatever the weather, and can penetrate windows and glass. This makes it really important to choose products with a broad-spectrum sunscreen that shields skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
Mineral and Synthetic Sunscreens
Synthetic sunscreens, like homosalate or avobenzone, absorb UV radiation in your skin. They need to be fully absorbed into your skin to work so make sure you apply them at least 20 minutes before you go outside. Synthentic sunscreens tend to have a lightweight texture, making them a good choice for combination to oily skin or skin that is prone to breakouts.
Paula’s Choice products with synthetic sunscreen:
- Resist Anti-Aging Youth-Extending Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF 50
- Resist Anti-Aging Skin Restoring Moisturiser SPF 50
- Skin Balancing Ultra-Sheer Daily Defense SPF 30
- Clear Ultra-Light Daily Hydrating Fluid SPF 30
- PC4Men Daytime Protect SPF 30
- Sun Care Extra Care Non-Greasy Sunscreen SPF 50
- Resist Anti-Aging Primer Serum SPF 30
Mineral sunscreens, like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, work by reflecting UV radiation as it hits your skin, a bit like a mirror. They work immediately after application, so you don’t need to wait before going outside. If you have sensitive skin, mineral sunscreens are the best choice as they are less likely to cause irritation.
Paula’s Choice products with a mineral sunscreen:
- Resist Anti-Aging Super-Light Daily Wrinkle Defense SPF30
- Skin Recovery Moisturizing Lotion 30
- Calm Moisturizer SPF 30 combination to oily skin
- Calm Moisturizer SPF 30 normal to dry skin
- Defense Moisturiser SPF 30
When to Reapply Sunscreen
Sunscreen gets broken down by direct exposure to daylight, so how often you need to re-apply sunscreen depends on the amount of time you spend outside. If you are in the office all day, then the sunscreen that you applied in the morning will still be effective when you travel home at the end of the day.
If you’re spending a longer amount of time outside in direct sunlight you need to re-apply it regularly, at least every 2 hours, to make sure you are getting full sun protection. If you are swimming or sweating, your sunscreen will wear off more quickly (even if it is labelled water-resistant) and you will need to reapply it every 40 to 80 minutes.
Do you need help? Get in touch with our skincare experts for free and personal skincare advice. It's our mission to help you achieve your skincare goals!