Everything You Need To Know About SPF

Okay, we’re 100% really into looking tanned and radiant all summer long. But there’s a whole host of fake tanning options that help us to bronzed beach body perfection, without the serious skin damage. Because what we’re not into is skin cancer, premature wrinkles, acne scarring, and pigmentation… 

Which is why we need to have a conversation about SPF. Scroll down for the answers to every question you have about SPF, plus our top picks. 

The BIG questions...

What does SPF mean? 

SPF stands for ‘Sun Protection Factor’ and measures the amount of protection you get from the sun’s UV rays. The higher the SPF, the better the protection. 

How does SPF work? 

SPF typically ranges from 2 to 50, which tells you how long it will take for your skin to burn compared to if you weren’t using any protection. So, if it typically takes you 10 minutes to burn without protection, an SPF30 will protect you for 30 times longer, which is 5 hours.  

How often should you apply SPF? 

Because sunscreens can easily wear off (due to water exposure and contact with clothing), if you’re in strong, direct sunlight you should reapply every 2-4 hours (and more frequently with exercise, swimming, or towelling off). 

What are UVA and UVB rays? 

They’re both ultraviolet rays. UVA is a longwave which penetrates the skin’s thickest layer whereas UVB is a short wave which burns the surface layer of skin.  

UVA is responsible for tanning, but it’s also the main culprit for triggering the visible signs of aging – wrinkles and brown spots.  

UVB rays are the ones that do serious damage – they’re responsible for sunburn as well as tanning and premature ageing, and they also cause the long-term damage that can lead to skin cancer. 

Why should you wear sunscreen? 

Sunburn isn’t just annoying, it’s your skin’s way of sending you a warning sign – your cells are damaged. UVB rays damage the DNA in your cells – if this builds up. It causes cells to mutate, which can lead to cancer. 

Sun exposure is the biggest trigger of aging skin – just as an apple goes soft and wrinkly when it’s left out in the sun, so will your skin (over time it’s kinda inevitable, but you can keep them at bay with daily SPF use). 

You exfoliate your skin using AHAs/BHAs – they’re great for clearing and brightening your skin, but they leave your skin super sensitive to sun damage. 

How much sunscreen should you apply? 

Half a teaspoon for face and neckThe equivalent of a full-size shot glass each application on a typical beach day you should go through half a bottle.

Do I only need to wear sunscreen when it’s sunny? 

It’s super important to wear sunscreen when it’s sunny because that’s when you’re prone to burning. But really, in order to prevent long-term damage, you should add an SPF into your everyday routine. UV rays can penetrate through clouds, windows, and even clothing, so if it’s not prevented, damage builds up slowly over time. 

What’s the difference between physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen? 

Here’s where things get scientific. Chemical sunscreens absorb radiation and convert it to heat to prevent UV damage from occurring (so sun is basically absorbed and then released from the skin), whereas physical sunscreens act as an actual barrier to reflect UV radiation and prevent the sun’s rays from even penetrating the skin. For this reason, physical SPF can sometimes feel quite thick and chalky, whereas chemical SPFs will be much lighter and smoother on the skin. 

To work out whether a sunscreen is physical or chemical, check the ingredients list. Essentially, if it contains either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide then it’s physical. And if it doesn’t, then it’s chemical. 

Which one’s for me? 

If your skin is sensitive or breakout-prone, then go for physical (the ingredients are less likely to cause irritation).  


Things to remember...

Expiry dates – most sunscreens will last for a year after opening. Once they’ve gone-off, the formulas can deteriorate and end up useless. 

Don’t forget all areas – the back of your neck, tops of your ears, backs of your hands, your lips, and your scalp are all vulnerable to damage, but often forgotten.  

Apply at least 30 mins before sun exposure – this gives the ingredients enough time to absorb into skin. 

You don’t need higher than SPF50 – 50 gives you 98% protection from the sun’s rays, so it’s very hard to get any higher than that! 

Try these...

Mario Badescu Aloe Moisturiser SPF15 

Everyone loves Mario’s moisturisers – they’re super hydrating, completely weightless, and great for sensitive skin. This one has the added bonus of SPF15 – perfect for everyday. 

NIOD Survival 30 

If previous experiences with thick, chalky suncreams have put you off wearing protection, the silky-smooth, weightless texture of this will completely change your mind. It feels just like a serum. 

The Ordinary Serum Foundation SPF15 

Wearing SPF doesn’t have to mean adding a whole new step to your routine. This foundation helpfully contains SPF15 (which isn’t enough if you’re planning on sunbathing) but is great for day to day use. 

Antipodes Immortal SPF15 Face & Body Moisturiser 

One for the natural skincare junkies. This cream not only provides protection for face and body, but it also helps to repair damaged skin, thanks to high levels of vitamin A, fatty acids, and omegas. 

Institut Esthederm City Protect Incellium Spray 

We know that topping up your SPF throughout the day is easier said than done. But this spray really does make it a whole lot easier. Mist it over face, hair, and body for protection in seconds. 

Cover FX Clear Cover Invisible Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF30 

This clear gel can be applied on its own or mixed with your primer or foundation to give a smooth and seamless SPF coverage that doesn’t interfere with your makeup. Genius.