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What Is SPF and Which One Should You Choose?

What Is SPF and Which One Should You Choose?

We decode which SPF (and sunscreen formula) you should use to safeguard your skin.

1. What does SPF mean?

2. Is sunscreen with a higher SPF better?

    a. Sunscreen checklist

3. What SPF sunscreen should you use?

    a. Best sunscreen for oily skin
    b. Best sunscreen for sports and outdoor activities
    c. Best sunscreen for kids
    d. Best sunscreen for sensitive facial areas

We know that the threat of ultraviolet radiation (UV rays), which causes premature skin aging, sunburns, and even cancer, is real. In Canada, skin is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer—more than breast, colon and lung cancers combined. So why do so many of us skip sunscreen entirely?

Sun protection’s biggest challenge is compliance. Many people have had a negative experience with sunscreen; either it left their skin too greasy or sticky or it just took too long to absorb. Luckily, today there are SPF formulas that won’t cause skin irritation, will feel lightweight and won’t budge when you sweat. Here, we break it all down and decode the most common words and phrases found on sunscreen labels so you can approach the shelves with confidence.

1. What does SPF mean?

Dr. Sonya Abdulla

What is SPF? It’s an acronym that stands for “sun protection factor”; however, it’s important to note that it’s specifically linked to UVB (burning rays) and doesn’t tell you anything about protection from UVA (aging rays). In Canada, there’s currently only two ways to tell whether your sunscreen offers UVA coverage: the UVA logo on the bottle and the words “broad spectrum.”

The number that follows the SPF indicates how quickly the sun's UVB rays would take to redden your skin (when using the product exactly as directed) versus the amount of time without any sunscreen. “The SPF on the bottle is only as good as the way that it’s applied,” says Dr. Sonya Abdulla, a Toronto-based dermatologist. Unfortunately, most people wear sunscreen incorrectly, applying a thin layer that provides only about half of the claimed SPF value. “This means using enough sunscreen and re-application regularly will give you the protection on the label,” she says. Using a higher SPF value increases sunburn protection. For example, a suncare product with an SPF 30 means it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you weren't wearing sunscreen.

2. Is sunscreen with a higher SPF better?

Wondering what value of SPF you should use? Is SPF 15 enough? Not quite, says the Canadian Dermatology Association. It recommends using a broad-spectrum (UVB and UVA protection) sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30. SPF30 is the sweet spot because it blocks nearly 97% of UVB radiation, whereas an SPF 50 blocks about 98%. What this really means, is that an SPF 30 allows 3% of UVB rays to reach the skin and an SPF 50, allows 2%. “While a 1% difference does not appear to be significant at first glance, it actually means that 50% less UVB radiation will reach the skin with the higher SPF,” says Abdulla.

Sunscreen checklist

  • Use SPF 30 or higher
  • Broad-spectrum coverage means protection from UVA/UVB
  • Use at least a shot glass amount of sunscreen to cover your body
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours if you are going to have prolonged sun exposure, go swimming or get sweaty outside
  • Wear sunscreen year-round
  • Find a sunscreen that absorbs into your skin
  • Don’t rely only on sunscreen; wear UV-protective clothing (UPF50), sunglasses and a hat

3. What SPF should you use?

The best sunscreen is one that you’ll use generously every day! Look for products with broad-spectrum coverage and a minimum SPF30. Even if you just plan on going to the office, at least protect your face, hands and neck, because UVA rays can penetrate windows. Sure, these rays may not burn skin, but they can lead to sunspots and accelerate skin aging. UVA rays enter deeper into the skin and attack collagen, and they’re also related to an increased risk of skin cancer.

To best protect your skin from sun exposure, use either a chemical or mineral broad-spectrum sunscreen formulation. Vichy’s suncare collection has some of the best sunscreens on the market. Here’s what SPF you should use, and which formula is best suited to your everyday suncare.

a. Best sunscreen for oily skin

When it comes to your face, SPF 60 is the new SPF 30. Since your face is constantly exposed to UV rays, it’s smart to bump up your coverage. When it comes to buying a sunscreen for your face, it’s all about finding a non-greasy formula that absorbs quickly. Vichy Idéal Soleil Anti-Shine Dry Touch Lotion SPF 60 is not only non-greasy but also mattifying, making it a great buy for those with oily or acne-prone skin. It’s also a great option if you’re active outdoors because it’s waterproof and sweatproof sunscreen.

b. Best sunscreen for sports and outdoor activities

Looking for the best sunscreen for sports? Choose a product with a minimum of SPF 30 that’s labelled “sport sunscreen” or “water-resistant.” Vichy Idéal Soleil Sport Ultra-Light Refreshing Lotion SPF 60 is both water and sweat-resistant, so you don’t have to worry about it stinging your eyes or streaking down your face after a humid summertime run. Even if you're dripping sweat, it can be reapplied, without compromising its protection. Plus, it’s SPF 60; it’s a good idea to go a little higher for added protection when you’re active (and sweaty). The star ingredient is Mexoryl XL, a patented broad-spectrum filter, that protects the skin from UVA and UVB rays.

c. Best sunscreen for children & kids

The Canadian Dermatology Association says that sun protection for kids and adults should be taken most seriously between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. if you are involved in outdoor activities. Regardless of your age, you should always choose a sunscreen that’s broad-spectrum with a minimum of SPF 30. But kids have sensitive skin and this is where an SPF 50 or 60 can be really helpful to avoid sunburns. Research has found that five or more bad sunburns before the age of 20 can increase someone’s risk of melanoma (skin cancer) by a staggering 80%. If your kids’ spend a lot of time at the pool or lake during the summer, then Vichy’s sunscreen for kids is a great option. Tested under pediatric control, Vichy Idéal Soleil Lotion for Kids SPF 50 is highly water-resistant (80 minutes of protection) and uses powerful chemical and physical filters (such as Mexoryl XL) to protect skin from UVA and UVB rays.

d. Best sunscreen for sensitive facial areas

Many of us are diligent about applying sunscreen to our faces and bodies, but we often overlook our lips and under eyes. Big mistake! The skin on lips and under our eyes is particularly sensitive because it’s so thin, and just like the rest of the body, it’s susceptible to sun damage. Consider adding a dedicated suncare balm with SPF 30 or higher into your routine. Just like sunscreen for your face and body, you need to reapply sunscreen for lips and under eyes every two hours. Vichy Idéal Soleil Lip SPF 30 is great for all skin types and stays put longer while also leaving lips soft and hydrated.


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