What the SPF?!

The Ballito MagazineDecember 4, 2020

The do’s and don’ts of sunscreen this summer.


DO: Use Broad Spectrum Sunscreen

Sunburn isn’t the only way the sun can damage your skin! Getting “burnt” is caused by UVB rays, but we are also exposed to UVA rays (which most sunscreens fail to block) that penetrate deeper into our skin, speeding up aging. Both UVB and UVA rays cause skin cancer, so it’s important to use broad spectrum sunscreen that protects you from both. SPF only protects you from UVB rays, while UVA protection is symbolised with a PPD or PA rating, a UVA circle symbol or by stating its broad spectrum.


DON’T: Only Apply On Sunny Days

UV rays are still present even if it’s cloudy, raining or snowing! Clouds still allow 80% of UV rays to hit the earth, and even snow, sand and water reflect the sun’s rays. Therefore, it is recommended to apply sunscreen every day of the week to all exposed skin. Ideally, you should also reapply every two hours (especially if you’re in direct sunlight) and after your sunscreen may have been removed (such as when changing clothes). You should also apply your sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside to give it time to bind with your skin.


DO: Look at the Ingredients

You should always be mindful of what you’re putting on your skin, and because sunscreen is so important, you have to learn more about the ingredients! When sunscreen shopping, good ingredients to look out for are filters such as tinosorbs (bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine and methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol) because of their robust broad-spectrum protection. Ingredients to be aware of are filters such as oxybenzone (benzophenone-3) and octinoxate (ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate and octyl methoxycinnamate) because of their suspicious effects on coral reefs.

DON’T: Rely on Spray-On Sunscreens

When using spray-on sunscreen, it is very difficult to know if you’re using enough, so this often results in inadequate protection and coverage. You want to rub it in thoroughly to make sure you’re covering all of the exposed skin and avoid inhaling it. For alternatives to spray-on sunscreens, it is suggested that you use a cream sunscreen for dry skin and face, gels for hairy areas, sticks for around the eyes and there are sunscreens for specific uses, such as for babies and sensitive skin.


DO: Apply a Lot!

Most people do not apply nearly enough sunscreen to protect their skin – there are measured standards! You need to use roughly two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimetre to achieve the SPF rating of the sunscreen. An easier way to measure this is roughly a shot glass of sunscreen for your full body and one teaspoon for your face and neck, at every application. Don’t forget to put sunscreen on the top of your feet, your ears and on top of your head. That’s a lot of sunblock for a summer’s day spent outdoors!


DON’T: Think Sunscreen Is Waterproof or Sweat Proof

Spoiler alert: they aren’t! Although it is preferred to use water resistant sunscreen, most are only effective for around 40 minutes in water. You should always reapply your sunscreen after getting wet and after sweating.


DO: Be Mindful of the SPF

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US says that sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 50 and higher are “inherently misleading”, because many people think they can stay in the sun longer or not reapply as often if they are wearing sunscreen with a high SPF – this is not true! You still need to reapply every two hours and after being in water or sweating, regardless of the SPF. However, it is recommended by dermatologists that you use an SPF of at least 30.


DON’T: Only Use Sunscreen for Skin Protection

You should always use a combination of sun protectors, especially when it’s sunny. On top of using a good sunscreen and applying it correctly, it is still advised to cover up with clothing, stay in shaded areas, wear a hat, and avoid being outdoors when the sun is most intense (between roughly 10:00 and 15:00). It is also advised to be wearing a lip balm with an SPF of at least 30 (skin cancer on your lips does exist!).