Myth Busters: How on Earth Do You Use SPF Anyway?

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Photo: Courtesy of @LilyAldridge

When a celebrity is asked what products she can’t live without, it’s almost guaranteed that her answer will include an SPF. Hardly surprising, seeing as exposure to the sun is responsible for accelerating the aging process and damaging skin, leaving us looking wrinkled and haggard – not pretty.

Aesthetics aside, harmful UV rays are also the leading cause of skin cancer, and one way to keep yourself safe is using an SPF. The problem? There are a lot of myths and misconceptions when it comes to skincare under the sun, so even if you are using the right product, chances are you aren’t using it to its optimal protecting potential. With that in mind, Savoir Flair has debunked the top ten sun-protection myths to keep you and your skin smiling in the sunshine. From what SPF really means to what the numbers on the bottle actually do, here is your guide to getting SPF-savvy, once and for all.

SPF = Sun Protection Factor

Developed in 1962, these numbers are a way of measuring a sunscreen’s effect against UVB rays, and they show you how long you can stay in the sun without burning. For example, if you normally burn after ten minutes in the sun, an SPF15 will give you 15 times that – or 150 minutes without burning. For any easy way to work out what SPF you need and how long it will protect you for, use this simple equation: minutes to burn without sunscreen x SPF number = maximum sun-exposure time.

Straw hat beach rocky barnes tumblr
Photo: Courtesy of Rocky Barnes
1

Myth: If I apply an SPF10 and put an SPF15 on top, I’m actually wearing an SPF25.

Truth: This is one of the most common misconceptions. SPF numbers don’t add up the way you might think. Using an SPF10 with an SPF15 won’t allow you to remain in the sun 25 times longer than without protection! This is because some SPF ingredients interfere with each other and make them less effective, so stick to using one product. That applies to makeup too – if your foundation has an SPF15, there’s no point then adding a sun cream on top. Just stick to one product!

2

Myth: If I apply an SPF100, I am 100 percent protected from the sun.

Truth: False, false, false. In fact, SPF100 products are so misleading that the U.S. FDA is trying to ban them, Australia caps SPFs at 30, while Europe and Japan do so at 50. Why? Because using high-factor SPFs gives consumers a false sense of security, resulting in less re-application and more time in the sun, which in turn means more burning and more damage. Don’t be fooled.

3

Myth: I have dark skin, so I don’t need to worry.

Truth: Although it is true that if you have more pigment in your skin, you are less at risk of burning and getting skin cancer, it doesn’t mean that you’re completely immune. Often, skin cancer is diagnosed later in people with darker skin, mostly due to a misconception that they aren’t at risk. So whether you’re porcelain pale or rich chocolate brown, trust Baz Luhrmann and wear sunscreen!

4

Myth: An SPF30 is twice as effective as an SPF15.

Truth: Nope – in fact, an SPF15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays, an SPF30 blocks 97 percent, and an SPF50 blocks 98 percent. So, as you go higher with the number, the difference in protection is actually minimal.

5

Myth: Sun creams protect me from all the harmful rays.

Truth: The bad news is, they don’t. SPF numbers only refer to UVB rays, not UVA. It’s obvious when UVB rays are causing damage – they’re the ones that lead to sunburn and redness as they’re absorbed by the top layers of skin. Although UVBs are arguably more harmful and the biggest cause of skin cancer, the ozone layer absorbs most of them before they reach us, which means that 90 to 99 percent of the rays that hit us are UVA. These rays are constantly present, come rain or shine, and the ones responsible for causing sun damage on a cloudy day (yes, they can get through clouds). Next time you reach for that tropical-smelling bottle, make sure it’s a broad-protection SPF (it will say so on the label) as these keep both UVA and UVB rays at bay.

Photo: Courtesy of @TashOakley
6

Myth: If I’m sitting in the shade, I don’t need to wear an SPF.

Truth: Just because you’re sitting in the shade, don’t be fooled into thinking you’re completely covered. It may offer protection from the sun’s direct rays, but not from rays that are reflected off the ground. Grass reflects about three percent of UV rays, sand between five and 25 percent, and water between five and 90 percent. Even when you think you’re out of the sun, you’re not – so slap on the SPF!

7

Myth: I only need to reapply if I’ve been in the sea or pool.

Truth: Regardless of whether you’re swimming or not, you need to reapply every two hours – at least. If you’re worried you won’t remember, set a reminder on your phone. Easy. It’s not only swimming that rubs off your SPF – sweating and skin rubbing against clothing can too, and the protecting powers of an SPF don’t last forever. Even products that say they’re waterproof and water-resistant will lose efficiency once you’re wet, so remember: reapply, reapply, reapply.

8

Myth: A little bit goes a long way.

Truth: There’s no point investing in sun protection and then not putting enough of it on. Instead of haphazardly slapping it on and rushing onto the sand, take your time to ensure you’re covering everywhere, and use enough product to get maximum protection. The rule of thumb is an average person needs at least one ounce to fully cover their body so, when in doubt, think about filling a large espresso cup with sun cream as your guide.

9

Myth: To apply my sunscreen properly, I need to really rub it into my skin.

Truth: You should be doing the opposite! Sun creams work by reflecting, absorbing, and scattering UV rays before they reach your skin so, by rubbing them in, you reduce the SPF’s effectiveness. Instead, apply a layer to the skin and leave it to sink in on its own.

10

Myth: As soon as I’ve applied my sun cream, I’m safe to go in the sun.

Truth: You need to give your skin some time to absorb your sun cream, as this gives the UV filters it contains time to soak in and form a protective layer. Instead of slathering it on and heading straight for the sun lounger, wait for 20 to 30 minutes.

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