Whether or not we are diligent practitioners, most of us know at this point how important it is to regularly use sun protection. No other step in your beauty regimen can serve the dual role of preserving your youth (using sunscreen helps prevent visible signs of aging such as wrinkles and discoloration) and possibly saving your life (one person dies of melanoma every hour1 and each year in the US nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer2). While we may know we should use sun protection there are still pervasive myths, misguided beliefs and general misunderstandings of the products and category as a whole.
Pick up any suncare product on the market and chances are you will find some of these common terms: “SPF,” “Water Resistant” or “Broad Spectrum.” But what do they actually mean?
Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
SPF: The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating system was introduced in 1962 to measure a sunscreen’s effect against UVB rays, the particular UV wave that causes sunburn, sun damage and can contribute to skin cancer.
So what does the number mean?
Let’s say your skin, with no sunscreen, would typically burn after 10 minutes of sun exposure. An SPF 15 simply means that you can now multiply that time (10 minutes) by 15 (for a sun factor product of SPF 15) = 150 minutes of sun protection without burning. This of course is subject to variables such as the intensity of the sun, your skin type and complete coverage during application. Most dermatologists recommend using a SPF within a range of 15-50 as the higher SPF levels don’t necessarily provide much more protection.
The FDA currently recognizes two water resistance claims: Water Resistant (40 min) or Water Resistant (80 min). You might remember terms like “waterproof” and “sweat-proof” but they are no longer allowable on suncare packaging as they were deemed as misleading consumer communication. Water resistant sunscreens must pass testing that verifies the product will retain its stated sun protection factor (i.e. SPF 30) after either 40 minutes or 80 minutes of water exposure (including sweating). After that period of time, the SPF level will start to degrade, which is why it is always recommended that you reapply every two hours after water exposure. Palmer’s® Eventone® Suncare Body Lotion, Sheer Spray, Sunscreen Balm and Stick have all been tested independently and provide 80 minutes of water resistance.
Originally, sunscreens were designed to only protect against UVB rays, the rays that cause sunburn, but those only account for a small portion of the full UV spectrum. There are actually three different wavelengths of ultraviolet rays: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC rays are absorbed by the ozone layer and never reach the Earth’s surface, but UVA and UVB rays do. UVA rays account for up to 95% of the UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface, and although they are less intense than UVB, UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB, and play a major part in skin aging and the development of wrinkles.
Tanning booths primarily emit UVA. The high-pressure sunlamps used in tanning salons emit doses of UVA as much as 12 times that of the sun. Not surprisingly, people who use tanning salons are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma, and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. According to recent research, first exposure to tanning beds in youth increases melanoma risk by 75 percent.
Protection from both of these harmful rays is imperative, which is why most major sunscreen products will contain broad spectrum coverage. Products that contain the claim “Broad Spectrum” are tested to cover you from the full range of UVA and UVB waves. All of Palmer’s® Suncare products have all been tested for and provide full Broad Spectrum protection. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends Palmer’s® Eventone® Suncare as effective broad spectrum sunscreens.
1American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2014. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@research/documents/webcontent/acspc-042151.pdf. Accessed June 2, 2014.
2Guy GP, Machlin SR, Ekwueme DU, Yabroff KR. Prevalence and costs of skin cancer treatment in the U.S., 2002-2006 and 2007-2011. Am J Prev Med 2014; 104(4):e69-e74. DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2014.08.036