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Spf Smarts

What those numbers really mean.
Spf Smarts What those numbers really mean.

If you've ever been bamboozled by the numbers and symbols on your run-of-the-mill bottle of sunscreen, fear no more: we're here to give you the simplest, most straightforward interpretation of all those digits and pluses.

According to experts, the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number should be multiplied by how long you can usually stay under the sun without burning. For example:

10 minutes of bare (no sunscreen) sun exposure without burning x 30 (SPF 30) = 300 minutes of non-burning sun exposure

Theoretically, what those numbers mean is that the higher the SPF, the longer you can stay under the sun without burning. Warning: being "safe" for 6 hours means that the lotion hasn't been rubbed, sweated or melted off AT ALL. This is a very loose and variable formula, and we stress that this “length of time” is super relative; skin type, fairness (the fairer the skin, the less time of sun exposure is allowed) and other factors (whether or not you're on hormone therapy, which makes you pigment more, or have photosensitizing agents in your skincare regimen, like Retinol or Vitamin C) should be considered when planning your next sunning session.

In real life, sunscreen wears off even before you lie back down on that lounge chair due to sweat, rubbing and transfer, and lessens, naturally, with every dip in water. Add to the fact that the exact length of time you can soak without toasting is inconsistent and can rarely ever be predicted, common sense and living in a tropical climate dictate that you're better off with an SPF higher than you originally think you would need (and, hey, global warming). Bottom line: if you think you need only an SPF 8, actually, you would need a 15. In preventing sun damage, it is always best to err on the side of caution. Be conservative!

Also, look for labels that mention “broad spectrum” protection; this means that they guard against both UVA (A = Aging, skin cancer) and UVB (B = Burning) rays, which is crucial if you're getting ready for some deliberate exposure on the beach, by the pool or even during a long drive, since the rays can pass through windows or even bounce off a concrete street.

Japanese or other various sunscreen brand buffs should take note of a slightly different SPF rating system, too. These sometimes use the PA rating system, which means the protection from UVA rays that the product offers, by virtue of how many plus signs (e.g. PA+, PA++ and PA+++) are indicated. Read: the more plus signs, the higher the protection.

Our advice? Shield yourself from damaging sun exposure with an SPF 30/PA++ or higher and re-slather every hour at least, especially if you've been active. A lot of products now offer several variants to lessen the goop and inconvenience of application, with spray-on, mentholated, quick-drying and cooling versions now in the market. Pick one that's best for you, and reapply often! Oh, and don't forget those oft-neglected areas, like your lips, ears, toes and nose bridge.

Tip: If you're still out to tan (and we know most of you are), apply a heavy sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) as a base and just layer on lightly with tanning lotion—not oil, as everything fries with oil—for a safer and more even color. As always, if you can't be good, be safe!

Good luck, take care and have an epic summer!

—Eunice Lucero, Beauty Editor

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