Sunscreen terms: What does SPF mean?

Updated On - August 19, 2020 Dr Jisha Gomez
Read Time : 3 Mins

Sunscreens are extremely important for our skin. Especially at times like this when global warming is at its peak, with the depletion of the ozone layer, it’s particularly important to make sure you keep your skin in check and healthy.

What is SPF?

We keep hearing or reading to check for the SPF on your sunscreens. So, what exactly is SPF? The full form of SPF is sun protection factor, this basically is a measure of how long that particular sunscreen can protect you from the harmful UV rays of the sun.

A sunscreen with an SPF of 30, for example, will protect your skin for about 10 hours. However, the intensity of the sun’s rays vary throughout the day and for that, you’d have to keep retouching your skin with sunscreen if you’re going to be exposed for prolonged periods of time.

These UV rays cause reddening of your skin and even cause sunburns. Other than this the sun rays can damage your epidermal layer. When these skin cells are damaged that’s when the most common and least dangerous form of skin cancer is seen.

Other than that pigmentation issues such as dark spots, hyperpigmentation, tanning, and freckles, are all mainly caused due to the exposure to sunlight. There is a particular factor called Melanin in your skin.

This is found under your skin at melanocytes, which are cells that produce melanin. Melanin is what given your skin color, and is also responsible for shielding your skin from harmful UV rays. Whenever your skin is exposed to sunlight, these cells under your skin are triggered, hence generating the production of melanin. This is what causes pigmentation in your skin. (2)

In most cases, the types of pigmentation such as dark spots will leave your skin with time if you take the right kind of care of it. Although in pigmentation issues such as Melasma which is seen in pregnant women because of hormones as well as sun exposure you’d need a set treatment plan to help get rid of it.

What do different types of SPF  mean?

There are two main types of sunscreens, they are namely :

  • Organic – These sunscreens absorb UV rays and convert that into heat.
  • Inorganic – These are sunscreens that reflect and scatter the UV rays. These are believed to be less irritating for the skin.

However, in most cases, sunscreens are a mix of both organic and inorganic types.

Other this you can find sunscreens in different forms, such as

  • Creams – This kind of sunscreen usually works for those who have dry skin.
  • Lotions – These are much thinner and not as viscous as creams so people with oily skin would usually prefer this to everything else. And this is usually used on the larger areas.
  • Gel – This is usually used for men, on hairy parts of the body and it’s mostly concentrated in one area and not all over.
  • Sticks – These are usually used to get the difficult areas around the eyes.

Which SPF is best for Indian skin?

As India is a tropical country it tends to be warm or hot throughout the year. Where most of the states face high temperatures. So whether you’re going to be in the house or not an SPF higher than 15 or 30 is always good. And when you stay in a state that faces high temperatures and SPF of 50 is always a safe choice.

Can high SPF sunscreens be harmful to the skin?

No high SPF cannot be dangerous or harmful for your skin. The only trouble occurs because people who apply a high SPF sunscreen tend to stay out for prolonged periods of time without retouch thus the UV rays can, in turn, be dangerous for your skin. (3)

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About Author

Dr Jisha Gomez
She is a highly skilled dermatology physician with strong expertise in improving skin & hair health through the development of corrective treatment combinations. She completed her Post-graduate Diploma in Dermatology from Cardiff, UK & Fellowship in Aesthetic Medicine (FAM) from the Institute of Laser and Aesthetic Medicine, Delhi with over 5+ years experience treating skin patients. She has worked in Government hospitals in Trivandrum and Bangalore. She is actively involved in creating awareness for healthy skin, breaking the social stigma based on skin colour & stopping steroid abuse in our country.