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SPF - What It Means to Your Skin

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. That is the amount of ultraviolet light that induces redness in sunscreen-protected skin, divided by the amount of ultraviolet light that induces redness in unprotected skin. It therefore gives a standard measure of ultraviolet light protection, more specifically UVB, the ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn. SPF ranges from 1 to 60 or above. The higher the number, the more protection against UVB radiation.

Another way of looking at SPF is to determine a time factor in a controlled environment for someone to stay in the sun without burning from UVB light. This is a sunburn meter. It is a simple way of looking at it, but it is a common mistake to assume that the duration of effectiveness of a sunscreen can be calculated simply by multiplying the SPF by the length of time it takes someone to suffer a burn without sunscreen, because the amount of sun exposure a person receives is dependent upon more than just the length of time spent in the sun. It depends upon a number of factors including the length of exposure, time of day, time of year, altitude, latitude and weather conditions.

SPF doesn't measure UVA radiation. Many sunscreens do not block UVA radiation at all, which does not cause sunburn but can increase the rate of melanoma, a kind of skin cancer, so people using sunscreens may be exposed to high risk UVA levels without realising it. There are broad-spectrum sunscreens that address this issue by protecting against UVA and UVB.

An important element of the overall health of your skin is to have adequate levels of vitamin D. Sunscreen products interfere with the production of vitamin D in your body. To produce adequate levels of vitamin D, you could spend small amounts of time in the sun without sun protection. However, whenever possible, it is better to supplement your diet to get vitamin D rather than from sun exposure because dietary sources and vitamin supplements do not increase risk for skin cancer, and are typically more reliable ways to get the amounts required by your body and your skin.

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