Sun Protection Factor

Sun Protection Factor | Dr. Ali Ghahary

With summer not too far behind and plenty more sunshine in the forecast for British Columbia, now is an important time to remind everyone about the benefits of wearing an SPF and why not wearing one could be detrimental to your skin and your health. For example, skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancers amongst Canadians, often due to prolonged exposure to sunlight (both natural and artificial, such as tanning beds) as a result of failing to take the necessary precautions to keep the skin protected.

In order to understand how SPF works, you should also be aware of the difference between UV rays – such as UVA and UVB rays.

UVA rays

These can cause damage to the skin year-round and are what cause the skin to become tanned, though they can also cause things like premature aging (such as wrinkling), immune system suppression, and yes, even cancer (melanoma.) UVA rays can penetrate through windows and clouds, which also means it’s possible for them to penetrate through the thickest layer of the skin known as the dermis.

UVB rays

These can burn the superficial layer of the skin, causing things like sunburn, pigmentation and discolouration, and also play a key role in the development of skin cancer. While anyone is at risk of damage to the skin and even skin cancer, children tend to be much more susceptible as they have more sensitive skin than adults.

One of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to wearing as SPF is that they think they only need it when it is hot and sunny outside. However, even on cooler, cloudier days and even during the winter, an SPF should be worn – every day, all day and night. There are also various types of SPF creams on the market. For example, some may work immediately but will need to be reapplied often and won’t offer as much UVA protection compared to others. Other SPFs can be irritating and may take several minutes to be active. It’s all about finding what feels best on your skin. To help you choose the right SPF it’s also a good idea to have an idea of how much time you think you can spend in the sun without getting burned (this is the definition of Sun Protection Factor.) For example, if you’re someone who can only spend 10 minutes in the sun before getting burned then using something like an SPF 20 will keep your skin protected for up to 200 minutes. The type of SPF you choose also depends on other contributing factors such as the time of day as well as exposure to things like wind and water.