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Why it Takes More than SPF to Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage

OK class, who knows what the acronyms UVA, UVB, and/or SPF stand for? Anyone?

Yes, that’s right, they all have to do with sun protection and you’ve seen them on sunscreen packaging. But you should get to know what’s listed on the packaging to better understand how to protect your skin from the sun this summer.

Let’s start with the one you probably use the most.

SPF – Sun Protection Factor

SPF is an indication of how long you are protected from the sun’s UVB radiation. The higher the SPF number, or rating, the longer you are protected. Without getting into too many technical details, the SPF refers to how much of the UVB radiation the sunscreen filters out. SPF 15 means that only 1/15th of UVB radiation will reach your skin.
That means, if it takes your skin 10 minutes to burn on a particular day, it will take 150 minutes to burn if you protect yourself with SPF 15.

UVB – Ultraviolet B short-wave radiation

UVB rays are the ones that burn your skin and can cause skin cancer. The SPF rating on your sunscreen refers only to protection from UVB rays.

UVA – Ultraviolet A long-wave radiation

UVA rays actually account for up to 95% of the radiation you get from the sun. UVA also penetrates further into your skin, producing the wrinkles and ageing we associate with too much exposure to the sun.

Now that we have the acronyms out of the way, let’s look at one of the most important things you need to see on a sunscreen label to know you are getting the most protection from the sun.


Only broad-spectrum sunscreens protect you from both UVA and UVB radiation. Just in case that’s not clear, you could use sunscreen with the highest SPF rating ever, and still have zero protection from UVA rays – the ones that age your skin.

In a way, SPF is misleading. It’s not a full sun protection factor, just a UVB protection factor.

One More Very Important Thing to Remember to Keep Your Skin Protected

Just because your SPF factor says you can stay in the sun for 150 minutes, that doesn’t mean you’re protected for that time. Sunscreen can wear off and lose its protective qualities fairly quickly, depending on if you swim and/or sweat.

You should apply sunscreen at least every two hours and more often if you’re in the water or otherwise active. At least if you want to keep your skin looking it’s best.

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