Today’s Question: I am going to Florida soon for spring break. I want to keep my skin protected, but am a little confused about SPF and what those numbers really mean. Christy, Syracuse
A. Good for you, Christy, for taking the necessary steps to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays that cause premature aging, wrinkles, brown spots and cancer. I understand how confusing it can be to know which sunscreen to choose for your skin and what those numbers on the bottle actually mean. Let me help make your sunscreen shopping a little easier.
SPF stands for Sunburn Protection Factor. SPF only protects you from UVB rays, which are the ones that cause sunburns. It is important when buying a sunscreen that you look for one that offers both UVB and UVA protection, which is labeled on the bottle as “broad spectrum.”
Those numbers on the sunscreen bottle can be confusing, misleading and give you a false sense of protection, Christy. For example, an SPF of 100 is not double the “strength” or protection of an SPF 50. In fact, many consumers often use less than the recommended amount of sunscreen when using a higher number SPF causing them to have little protection at all. Think of the SPF number as a percentage of protection from the UVB rays. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “SPF 15 filters out approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 keeps out 97 percent and SPF 50 keeps out 98 percent.”
I recommend all my patients wear at least an SPF 30. The essential key with sunscreen is to reapply it every two hours that you are outside in the sun to ensure its effectiveness as well as if you have been swimming or sweating. In addition, you need to apply enough that you are getting the full protection. It is recommended you use about a shot glass full amount of sunscreen for your body, which is much less than most of my patients use. Christy, even if you have a cloudy day on your vacation you still need to apply your sunscreen. “Up to 40 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation reaches the earth on a completely cloudy day,” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. “This misconception often leads to the most serious sunburns because people spend all day outdoors with no protection from the sun.”
I hope this clears up some of the confusion on SPF, Christy. If you have any more questions before you leave, be sure to talk to a medical skin care professional. Have a wonderful trip and enjoy the sun – safely!
Jennifer Kauffman is a Board Certified Nurse Practitioner, practicing in Warsaw and Ft. Wayne. She is a sought after speaker at medical conferences such as the American Academy of Plastic Surgeons. Jennifer is a member of American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and Coalition of Advance Practice Nurses of Indiana. She received her Nursing and Nurse Practitioner degrees from Goshen College, and Indiana Wesleyan University. Jennifer is a Clinical Instructor nationally to physicians and nurses on sclerotherapy.
Do you have a question for Jennifer, about this article or another cosmetic skin care issue? Please call Vein Institute & Medical Spa at 574-267-1900 to have your questions answered and considered for future columns. Questions can also be submitted online at www.veinmedicalspa.com