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Body Watch | Save Our Skins

May 14, 1997

What's all this talk of SPF?

"Sun protection factor" is the ratio between the amount of exposure to ultraviolet rays required to cause skin redness with and without a sunscreen. For example, if a sunscreen has an SPF of 15, the skin it is applied to can be exposed to the sun 15 times longer than the same skin without protection.

You should use a sunscreen with an SPF based on four factors: length of time spent in the sun, the intensity of the sun's rays in your geographical area, the type of sunscreen formulation you prefer and skin type.

Skin type classifications, ranging from Type 1 to Type 6, are based on the skin's tendency to burn. A rule of thumb: The lower your skin type, the higher your SPF should be.

* Type 1: Always burns, never tans.

* Type 2: Burns easily, tans minimally.

* Type 3: Sometimes burns; gradually tans.

* Type 4: Minimum burning, always tans.

* Type 5: Very seldom burns, always tans.

* Type 6: Never burns but tans darkly.

Source: Skin Cancer Foundation

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