What is SPF and What Level is Right for Me?
Skin cancer, as the Center for Disease Control reports, is the most common cancer in the United States. Unfortunately, its incidence is on the rise: per the Mayo Clinic, a 2012 study found that women are eight times more likely to develop melanoma (the most dangerous form of skin cancer) today than they were forty years ago; men are four times more likely.
But there is some good news. First of all, non-melanoma skin cancers are much more common than melanoma and much less likely to be fatal. Secondly, skin cancers (melanoma and otherwise) are often preventable through two behaviors: using sunscreen and avoiding tanning beds.
The Importance of SPF
Sunscreen works by combining inorganic ingredients (such as zinc oxide) with organic ingredients (such as octyl methoxycinnamate). Inorganic ingredients reflect UV rays, while organic ingredients absorb them.
Sunscreen is categorized by the Sun Protection Factor (SPF). According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the SPF is the measure of a sunscreen’s ability to protect your skin against ultraviolet rays. SPF can be calculated by using percentages: SPF 15 filters out an estimated 93 percent of rays; SPF 30 filters out an estimated 97 percent, and SPF 50 filters out an estimated 98 percent.
Though the differences in these percentages are minimal, they can make a world of difference if you fall into a high risk category. Sunscreen, typically with SPF of 25 or above, can also be infused into makeup, moisturizers and chap-stick.
Skin Types at High Risk
While anyone of any skin type and any race can get skin cancer, it is much more prevalent in certain demographics, such as Caucasian people. The World Health Organization suggests you may be at high risk for skin cancer if you have a personal or familial history, fair skin, blue or green eyes, light-colored hair, a predisposition to sunburn (if you burn rather than tan), skin moles, freckles and/or a history of bad sunburn (even if it’s only occurred a few times, severe, blistering sunburn can do damage).
You may also be at a higher risk for skin cancer if you work outdoors, have had an organ transplant, have a compromised immune system, have had a lot of exposure to medical radiation or if you reside at a high altitude location (such as Colorado).
Choosing the Right SPF
Choosing the right SPF can mean the difference between getting excellent protection and getting, quite literally, burned. However, it’s not only about choosing the right SPF in your sunscreen, it’s also choosing the right time to wear sunscreen altogether.
Many people don’t consider breaking out the bottle of sunscreen lotion unless they are headed to the beach, going to the pool, or working outdoors under the hot summer sun. But, this way of thinking can be dangerous. You may need sunscreen even if you spend a minimal amount of time outside, if your office desk is near a window, or if you spend a great amount of time in your car (as UV rays can come in through glass). You may also need sunburn on cloudy days (as UV rays can penetrate cloud cover).
When it comes to choosing your SPF number, you may want to take into consideration two things: whether or not you are already wearing sun protection and whether or not you are high risk. As for the former, you may already have some SPF protection through makeup, body lotion, face moisturizer, or aftershave. If this is the case, a lower number may suffice.
Your individual risk factors are the most important variable when choosing an SPF. If you have any of the high-risk factors, consider choosing a higher SPF number. The higher you go, the more protection you’ll have. But no protection is full proof: even if you regularly bathe yourself in sunscreen, yearly skin checks are still needed.
About the Author
Samantha Greenbaum is body-conscious mother of two. Samantha enjoys her fair share of healthy relaxation and pampering after a busy day of working and parenting, which is why she suggests the relaxing, rejuvenating services and devices of T4 Spa.