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South Africa is know for its awesome weather and many people forget the most important product behind…the sunscreen. Here we give you the low down on what that SPF actually means and all we can say is…..use sunscreen!

This summer, sunscreens with SPF 70 hit the market. The fair-skinned of the world might be tempted to take this as an open invitation to slather some on, jump onto a lounge chair and bake for 12 hours without getting burned. The higher the number, the better, right? Before you throw caution to the wind, though, you should know a few things about SPF. What is it, exactly? What do the numbers mean, and how high can they go?

Have you got your sunscreen?

We use sunscreen to block ultraviolet light from damaging the skin. There are two categories of UV light — UVA and UVB — that we consider in terms of sunscreen. UVB causes sunburn, and UVA has more long-term damaging effects on the skin, like premature aging. SPF, or sun protection factor, numbers were introduced in 1962 to measure a sunscreen’s effect against UVB rays.

To determine a sunscreen’s SPF, testers round up 20 sun-sensitive people and measure the amount of UV rays it takes them to burn without sunscreen. Then they redo the test with sunscreen. The “with sunscreen” number is divided by the “without sunscreen” number, and the result is rounded down to the nearest five. This is the SPF.

Have you got your sunscreen?

SPF numbers start at 2 and have just recently reached 70. To figure out how long you can stay in the sun with a given SPF, use this equation:

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

The bottom line is that a sunscreen with a higher SPF does offer higher protection against UVB rays, but once you get past SPF 30, protection doesn’t increase dramatically, and the higher number may give you a false sense of protection. Instead of letting SPF be your only guide to sun protection, avoid a burn by following a few simple sunscreen rules.

1. Know thyself: If you are whiter than a sheet of paper, if your Aunt Linda has skin cancer, or if you are sensitive to the sun because of a medication or a medical condition, take extra measures. Stay out of the sun as much as possible, wear a hat when you are out, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF and reapply that sunscreen often.

2. Broaden your spectrum: The SPF number indicates protection only against UVB rays — many sunscreens, even those with a high SPF, allow UVA rays to be absorbed by the skin. UVA protection is usually indicated by a “broad-spectrum” label. Look for this to ensure the most well-rounded sun coverage.

3. Here comes the sun: To be effective, sunscreen needs to be fully absorbed into the skin, so apply it 15 to 30 minutes before you even step into the sun.

New Protection against UVA Rays
The high SPF numbers on some new sunscreens might not be that useful, but their protection against UVA rays will be. The skin absorbs UVA rays from the sun, tanning beds and sunlamps. These rays won’t give you a sunburn, but they can cause long-term skin damage. You should always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen to ensure protection from both UVA and UVB rays. The latest sunscreens boast new chemicals, like Mexoryl, which has proven to be one of the most effective UVA-blockers out there.

4. Reapply yourself: Whether you’re lying by the pool or mowing the lawn, you’ll probably be exposed to sweat or water, the natural enemies of sunscreen. To be safe, reapply after you swim or sweat.

5. Full exposure: No matter how high the SPF, sunscreen can protect only the skin it covers. The most commonly missed spots are the temples, ears, back of the neck and top of the feet. If you are sometimes guilty of losing your focus while applying your lotion, try one of the sunscreens that contains disappearing colourants, so you can identify unlotioned areas before they burn to a crisp.
Have you got your sunscreen?

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