Determing your personal SPF number.

Your Personal SPF: Determining Your Number

The Basics
Sun protection is an everyday must for anyone concerned with keeping their skin in top shape (and that includes avoiding wrinkles, brown discolorations, building collagen, keeping skin firm, and even preventing skin cancer). SPF 15 is the minimum rating to look for and greater is better for some skin colors and conditions; all sunscreens must be liberally applied; and UVA protection is critical.

UVA protection depends on the active ingredients in the product you are using so be sure one or more of these active ingredients are included: avobenzone (sometimes listed as butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane), titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, Mexoryl (ecamsule) or, outside the U.S., Tinosorb.
Decisions, Decisions
There are several important factors that influence how you choose and should apply a sunscreen:

1. How long you are going to be in the sun or sitting next to a window (UVA radiation, the sun’s most damaging rays, come through windows). The longer you are going to be in the sun or exposed to UVA radiation via windows the higher the SPF number you need to look for.
2. Are you willing to apply your chosen sunscreen liberally? No matter what SPF rating you choose, you have to apply it liberally. If you aren’t applying it liberally always go for a higher number to assure you are getting as much sunscreen ingredients on your skin as possible.
3. Will you be swimming or perspiring heavily? If so, go for sunscreens labeled water resistant or very water resistant. Be sure to reapply as directed, especially after toweling off.

You’ll also want to take into consideration your skin type and whether or not you’ll be wearing makeup.

1. Those with normal to dry skin should use sunscreens in a lotion or cream base.
2. Those with oily or combination skin should go for sunscreens formulated in a lightweight lotion with a matte finish, a liquid, or an alcohol-free gel base. Many spray-on sunscreens are excellent for oily skin.
3. If you’re going to be wearing foundation, you can choose a foundation with sunscreen and pair it with a moisturizer with sunscreen and a pressed powder with sunscreen!

What’s Your Rating?

Your ideal SPF number is a multiplication figure based on your skin color and the SPF number on the product.
Identify Your Skin Color:

Fitzpatrick Skin Scale

Level 1 skin is very fair and often freckled. It burns easily within about 20 minutes of direct sun exposure and never tans. This is common for people with blue eyes and blonde or red hair.

Level 2 skin is fair to light and often burns with about 30 minutes of direct sun exposure. Tanning may occur but is minimal. This is common in people with blue, green, or hazel eyes and red, blonde, or light brown hair.

Level 3 skin is light to medium or olive and sometime burns with about 40 minutes of direct sun exposure. Tanning is possible, but typically sunburn happens first. This level can apply to those of any hair or eye color.

Level 4 skin is medium to tan skin that rarely burns but can turn pink in about 60 to 90 minutes of direct sun exposure yet often tans easily. This is commong for people with dark hair and eyes.

Level 5 skin is brown to dark brown skin that very rarely burns and tans easily in about two hours of sun exposure. Those with dark hair and eyes and of Middle Eastern or African-American descent are usually at this level.

Level 6 skin is black skin that never burns and always tans, though a tan is usually not apparent due to depth of natural skin color.


Next, Do the Math:

* Your Level of Sunburn Risk x by the SPF Rating = Safe Sun Exposure for Your Skin Color
* The SPF number is a rating that determines how long you can stay in the sun without burning when you wear that product without needing to reapply it. It does not indicate quality of protection, just length of time.

by Paula Begoun, The Cosmetics Cop. For more articles from Paula visit her website:

To learn more about protecting your skin and calculate your specific SPF rating check out the whole article here.

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