SPF Gallery: What You Need To Know About Sun Protection

Confused by terms like SPF, PA, UVA, and UVB? Here's what you need to know about protecting your skin from harmful rays while you soak up the sun this summer.

Ever since we were kids we were told to "wear sunscreen." We hear the technical terms all the time. Sun protection this, UV that. But have you stopped to ponder the significance of these letters and numbers? Does everybody need to wear sunscreen all the time? What about when it's cloudy? What exactly is the difference between sunscreen and sunblock? We've got the answers for you right here.

A bit of sun is good for everyone. It helps our bodies produce Vitamin D, which is essential for strong bones, a fortified immune system, and a healthy cardiovascular system. But, too much sun exposure can lead to age spots, sunburn, and even skin cancer. What causes the damage? There are two kinds of harmful rays to look out for: Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB).

UVA rays are responsible for that glowing tan you get from lounging on the beach because they penetrate deep into the skin. But, prolonged UVA exposure causes permanent damage to our skin. Once damaged, our skin loses elasticity and more age-wrinkles form. UVA protection is measured by the Protection Grade for UVA (PA) index. The number of pluses (+) indicates how many times the skin is protected from darkening. Here's a quick guide:

PA+ means 2-4 times protection.
PA++ provides 4-8 times protection.
PA+++ gives 8 times protection or more.

UVB rays, on the other hand, are responsible for unsightly and painful sunburn. The top layer of skin reacts by becoming red, inflamed, and freckled. The measurement of UVB protection is known as Sun Protection Factor (SPF). The number that follows the SPF label indicates how many times the skin is protected from burning.

Some women think that they don't need either sunblock or sunscreen if they don't spend much time outdoors. But, according to research by Vaseline's skin care experts, "Even indoors, you need to protect your skin; UV rays can easily penetrate windows and shades (and vehicles, offices, homes, and even airplanes)." Make sure you never leave the house without some form of sun protection, and the added benefit of a hat and shades to protect your hair and eyes.

So now that you know the meaning behind the technical terms, what products should you choose? How do sunblock and sunscreen differ? Both can offer protection from UVA and UVB rays, but sunblock tends to be opaque—it literally blocks the sun from penetrating your skin. The downside to this is that it often leaves unattractive, streaky marks on the skin. Products with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are usually classified as sunblock.

Most products on the market, however, are actually sunscreens. That's because they are transparent and the ingredients break down faster, so reapplication is a must. Many skin care lines and cosmetics are now formulated with sunscreen, so you have basic protection without the ick factor of a white cast on your face.

Now that you know the essentials of sun protection, there's no excuse to bake in the sun and let your skin suffer in the long run. Make sure you're protected and have adequate products on hand at all times. Check out our SPF gallery below for the latest products to keep your skin healthy and glowing while you bask in the summer heat. We'll help you pick the product that's right for your need.

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