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29 April 2022

All you need to know about SPF

What is SPF?

Suncream refers to the physical product that you’re using to protect your skin from the sun.

SPF, on the other hand, stands for sun protection factor, and is a measure of how protected you are from UVB rays. Broad-spectrum SPF means that the product offers protection against both UVB and UVA rays. Sunscreen and other cosmetics manufacturers determine the SPF of a product by comparing the time it takes for skin to redden when with and without sun protection products. For example, when wearing a product with SPF 30, it would take 30 times longer to burn than if you were not wearing any sunscreen.

A higher SPF means more protection from the sun’s harmful rays, keeping your skin healthy, safe, and beautiful!


In order to truly understand all the benefits that SPF products offer your skin, it is important to understand how the sun’s rays can cause harm.

There are two types of UV rays:
- UVB rays have the shorter wavelength between the two. They are the main cause of sunburn and are a key player in the development of skin cancers. UVB rays penetrate the outer layers of the skin.
- UVA rays have a longer wavelength than UVB rays. These are the rays that give you a beautiful golden tan. Without protection, however, UVA rays can cause hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, and unwanted signs of premature ageing. UVA rays penetrate deeper into your skin and can also play a role in the development of skin cancers. The shorter wavelengths of UVA rays can also cause sunburn.

Products with SPF can help to:
- Protect you from skin cancer and DNA damage
- Prevent sunburn
- Reduce redness and inflammation
- Fend off wrinkles and fine lines
- Guard against hyperpigmentation, age spots, and uneven skin tone

Today, you can find products with SPF in a variety of formats:
- Lotions
- Sprays
- Moisturisers
- Serums
- Balms
- Mineral Powders
- All kinds of makeup: foundations, concealers, BB Creams, setting sprays & powders, and lip products

Compatible with you:
In today’s market, products with SPF are available in multiple formats and at multiple price points.
- Products with SPF 30 or higher are recommended.
- For facial suncreams, seek out products with “non-comedogenic”, “sensitive skin”, or “acne-prone skin” for a gentler formula.
- Seek out a suncream product that works well with your makeup routine. This may take some trial and error, but with proper application, your products should blend together seamlessly.
- If you want to avoid the notorious whitecast of certain suncreams, seek out SPF products without titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. A chemical suncream may be a preferable option.

Is it for your skin type?

SPF products are available with a variety of different active ingredients and in several formats, providing sun protection options for everyone. As mentioned above, facial suncreams typically have labels indicating that they are non-comedogenic or suitable for sensitive facial skin.

We always recommend patch testing new products to make sure that the formula is safe for you.

How does it work? A little bit of science…

Sun protection products work in one of two ways:
- Mineral/Physical suncreams: These products contain active ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. They work by forming a physical barrier between your skin and the harmful UV rays, reflecting the rays off your skin and blocking unwanted damage. Physical suncreams usually have thicker formulas and are recommended for those with acne-prone or sensitive skin.
- Chemical suncreams: These products contain active ingredients like avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate, and homosalate. They protect your skin by absorbing the UV rays and converting them to heat which can be released through the skin. These formulas usually feel lighter on your skin, but can be more irritating to some users.

SPF measurements are determined in laboratory settings and reflect the time it takes to observe erythema, or reddening of the skin, when wearing a suncream vs not wearing a suncream.

Generally, SPF ratings offer the following levels of protection:
- SPF 15 shields skin from 93% of UVB rays
- SPF 30 blocks nearly 97%
- SPF 50 blocks 98%
- SPF 100 blocks 99%

How to find it on beauty labels

As we mentioned earlier, SPF isn’t a skin care ingredient. There are a variety of ingredients in both physical and chemical suncreams that help protect your skin.

  • Titanium dioxide
  • Zinc Oxide
  • Tinosorb S and M
  • Mexoryl SX
  • Avobenzone
  • Octisalate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Homosalate
  • PABA
  • Trolamine salicylate PABA

What products SPF can be found in:

Here you can find a selection of products with this ingredient from The Birchbox Shop.

How to incorporate it into your routine:
Products that offer sun protection belong in your skincare routine every single day. Your skin benefits from the protection rain or shine, inside or outside, regardless of your skin type or complexion.
- Look for a suncream with broad-spectrum SPF to ensure that you are protected from UVA and UVB rays.
- Use a product with a minimum SPF of 15 for daily use. SPF 30 or higher is recommended for facial suncreams and if you plan to spend time outdoors.
- For suncreams that will be applied on your face, look for the words “non-comedogenic” on the label to avoid breakouts.
- Apply suncream after washing your face, allow it to fully absorb, and then apply other skincare products and makeup once your skin has dried.
- Apply suncream all over your body, ensuring that you cover your face, ears, hands, feet, neck, and chest for maximum protection.
- Reapply suncream every 2 hours (more frequently if you’re out in the sun).

Works well with…
- Retinols
- Moisturisers
- AHA’s and BHA’s
…just about everything! SPF products are a critical part of a healthy beauty regimen, and come in a variety of formats, allowing for widespread compatibility with all of your skincare staples.