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What the Heck is SPF, Anyways?

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By: burgundy bug

Happy sun doodle

Source: Expressive Gradient Sun | Penelope Peru Photography p3

Sun protection factor, better known as SPF, indicates how effective sunscreen is at protecting your skin from the sun, as depicted in the infographic by American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

The AAD recommends selecting a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which will block about 97 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Read: What the Heck Are UV Rays, Anyways?

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Additionally, the Skin Cancer Foundation says individuals with a family history of skin cancer, albinism, or other genetic dermatological conditions, should select much higher SPF sunscreens. In those situations, an SPF of 50 may not even be enough.

Generally speaking, higher SPFs only provide slightly higher UV protection. SPF 50 sunscreens block approximately 98 percent of the rays, only one percent more than SPF 30 sunscreens.

However, that one percent is all the more important to individuals who have naturally lower levels of melanin in their skin.

Read: How to Shield Your Skin from Summer Sunshine

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Busting Myths About SPF & Sunscreen

Grumpy sun doodle

Source: Expressive Gradient Sun | Penelope Peru Photography P³
  • Higher SPF ≠ longer protection. Just because the SPF is higher doesn’t mean you can skimp out on the sunscreen. It will still need to be reapplied every two hours.
  • Water resistant ≠ waterproof. In reality, you will need to reapply sunscreen even more often if you’re swimming or sweating.
  • You don’t need sunscreen if you’re not burnt. The best method for treating sunburn is prevention. Don’t wait until you’re burnt to start applying sunscreen!
  • What about the lips? Believe it or not, your lips are also susceptible to peeling and sunburn. During the summer months, select a chapstick that has an SPF of at least 30.
  • What about the eyes? Your eyes are also susceptible to damage from UV rays. For optimal protection, Mayo Clinic recommends sunglasses that block at least 99% of UVA and UVB rays.

In Conclusion

SPF is used to indicate how much a sunscreen will protect your skin from UV rays. Higher SPFs are only slightly more effective, but critical when caring for individuals with more sensitive skin.

Sunscreen is not something to be stingy with. Apply liberally on all areas of exposed skin – and yes, you’ll need to protect your eyes and lips, too.

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burgundy bug


A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. You can learn more about working with burgundy bug by visiting her portfolio website: burgundybug.com

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