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Protect Yourself From The Sun. Find Out what SPF Really Means

Many still believe that sun creams will stop you from tanning. If that is all the do, why do they have so many SPF options?

SPF means Sun Protection Factor – not ‘how much you won’t tan’ factor. Do not get Sun Protection Factor confused with Sun Block. SPF will not stop you tanning, but it may take a little longer with a high SPF than a lower SPF. SPF was introduced in 1962 as a way to measure sunscreen’s effectiveness. Sunscreen is used to block harmful ultra violet light from the sun. This is referred to as UVA and UVB. UVB causes sunburn and UVA has long term damaging effects on the skin like ageing. The higher the SPF number, the more UVB rays are absorbed by the skin.


SPF formula:

Minutes to burn without sunscreen x SPF number = maximum sun exposure time

For example, if you burn without sunscreen after 15 minutes in the sun and you apply a factor 15 sunscreen, it will allow you to be in the sun for up to 225 minutes without burning. Please, take this formula with caution! It is reported that we do not use enough sunscreen and we apply far less than was used in testing when this equation was created. This means that the time for burning could be half this amount of time! In addition to not putting on enough sunscreen, all sunscreen effectiveness decreases when exposed to water and sweat, on the contrary to what the labels say. It is important that you regularly reapply to make sure you have the best protection from the harmful rays. It is correct that the higher the SPF, the more protection you get from sun damage, however this used to be capped at SPF30. After 30, protection does not increase dramatically, and if someone were to apply an SPF40 or more, they may be lured into a false sense of security and believe they can spend much more time in the sun than the sunscreen actually protects them for.


 Some general tips to protect your skin from sun damage:


  1. Reapply, reapply, reapply – even if it says it is waterproof, it isn’t 100% waterproof.
  2. Prepare – apply your sunscreen in advance of stepping outside, not when you are already in the sun. It takes time for the cream to be fully absorbed into the skin, so applying it in the sun means you are not fully protected for the first 30mins to an hour, which could lead to burn and damage.
  3. Don’t miss anywhere! – Sunscreen cannot protect the areas you miss, obviously. Take care of the areas that people most commonly miss – ears, back of the neck, the parting in your hair and the top of your feet.
  4. Look at yourself – are you pale? Do you know that you burn quickly? Do you have a close relative that has skin cancer? – Do not take any risks. If you know you burn, keep out of the sun!


Sunscreen was invented to allow us to enjoy the sun whilst protecting our skin from the harmful rays. Do not ruin your holiday, experience, or your tan buy not protecting yourself properly and causing painful and damaging sunburn. For more information on protection from the sun and Sun Awareness Week, visit the British Association of Dermatologists.