SPF is Your New Best Friend

Story by Samantha Knox

With warmer weather upon us, SPF should be your new best friend.

SPF or Sun Protection Factor measures the amount of UVB absorption in the sunscreen. So when you are outside, you have to make sure you are applying the right sunscreen properly.

“The real thing to do in the summer is not just put it on when you know you are going somewhere, you should really have it beside your toothpaste in the morning and put it on every day. Especially in spring and summer, it should be on every day,” said Cheryl Rosen, the head of the Division of Dermatology at University Health Network and a professor at the University of Toronto.

Use a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher, and make sure it says broad-spectrum, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB. Always apply sunscreen when the UV index is over 3 and 20 minutes before you go outside. If you are swimming, make sure to reapply two hours after you get out of the water.

“Use the right amount because if you’re using less than the suggested amount, the SPF you’re using basically declines, so if you are using a 50 and you are applying less, then you are using a 30 or 25,” said Falyn Katz, the executive director of the Melanoma Network of Canada.

You should be applying about two tablespoons worth of sunscreen, a nickel-sized amount on your face.

Sunscreen also prevents more than just skin cancer. “It prevents sunburns, that is really what an SPF is defined as, preventing sunburns. It prevents tanning, and tanning is the response of the skin being injured. It prevents DNA, which is why it ultimately leads to skin cancer,” said Rosen. As well as cold sores and chronic sun-induced change.

The sun has three different UV rays that can cause skin cancer.

UVA, UVB, and UVC.

UVA radiation goes deeper into the skin, causes a change in the appearance of skin colour, and causes premature ageing and wrinkles. UVB radiation affects the skin’s surface, causes eye damage, contributes most to the burning of the skin. UVC is the most dangerous and is filtered out by the ozone layer. 

“One blistering sunburn increases your chances, there’s another of other factors of course, family history, generally people with fair skin get sunburned more, but really skin cancer affects everyone,” said Katz.

There are three different types of skin cancer that could happen if sunscreen is not applied. Actinic keratosis, Basal cell carcinoma, and Squamous cell carcinoma, all caused by long exposures to UV rays.

Actinic keratosis (AK) appears as scaly, dry, and rough patches on that skin in places that have been exposed to sunlight.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) appears as a persistent, non-healing sore, a pink growth or a scar-like area, a reddish patch or irritated area in places that have been exposed to sunlight.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) appears as an elevated growth or a growth that rapidly increases in size, wart-like growth that crusts and occasionally bleeds, an open sore that persists for weeks, a persistent red patch with irregular borders seen in places exposed to sunlight.

“Skin cancer is very serious and a potentially deadly disease, and it has to be taken seriously, and is one of the few cancers that is preventable and is one that is more easily detectable,” said Katz.

Sunscreen should be applied all year round, not just during the summer. Sun rays can bounce off sand, concrete, and snow. So no matter where you are, protect your skin.