Skincare 101: SPF meaning + Suncare

sunscreen and spf meaning

In this post we will discuss what is the meaning of SPF and why is sun protection so important? We explain the differences between chemical and physical sunscreens.

Hey, Mazzi here! 💁‍♀️ As the owner of a skincare company, I am always asked by friends and family about how they can build their own skincare routine. They’re so curious about skincare – from using the right techniques and the best products – but are also overwhelmed by the amount of information out there.

That’s why I decided to share this series exploring the 3 essential parts of skincare – a simple, accessible, and intuitive approach to understanding and enjoying the skin you’re in!

This growing guide of content should act as a “little library” for your skincare basics that you can build your own personalized routine from. No need to take intense notes – our Skincare 101 is a mixture of common sense and skin wisdom that myself and other skin-thusiasts have explored while creating high-quality all-natural products.

Let’s get sk-in to it!

This week in our Skincare 101 series, we are putting up a defense for SPF and why you should be investing in sun protection!

SPF meaning, types, and importance

What is SPF and why is sun protection so important?

Sun Protective Factor (SPF) indicates how long a person can be exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation before getting sunburn with sunscreen applied compared to how long they can be exposed before getting a sunburn without sunscreen. For example, someone who would burn after 10 minutes in the sun without sunscreen would expect to burn after 5 hours (300 min) if protected by a sunscreen with SPF 30. 

UV, UVA, UVB meaning

UV radiation in sunlight is divided into several ranges depending on the wavelength. UVB radiation covers the wavelength range between 290 and 320 nanometers, and UVA radiation covers the wavelength range between 320 and 400 nanometers. Broad Spectrum means the product provides UV protection across both the UVA and UVB wavelength ranges.

Long term exposure to UVA and UVB sun rays can lead to

  • skin cancer (also known as melanoma)
  • discoloration and sun spots
  • fine lines
  • premature aging

Short term exposure may result in skin damage such as

  • sunburn
  • itchy & dry skin
  • cracking& peeling

A “suntan” is actually your skin cell’s response to being stressed and damaged – resulting in the release of melanin. So next time you see a suntan, think “sun-damaged” not “sun-kissed”.

Do you skip SPF on cloudy days?

Sun protection goes way beyond the beach. You might think that a cloudy day or cold weather means that you can skip SPF, but you’d be wrong. Even on an overcast day, 80% of the sun rays still penetrate and the same amount is reflected by snow. You can get a sunburn even while skiing or snowboarding so be sure to pack the sunblock!

A “sun tan” is actually your skin cell’s response to being stressed and damaged by the sun – resulting in the release of melanin. Next time you see a sun tan, think “sun damaged” not “sun kissed”.

How much and how often should I apply SPF?

The FDA recommends that only products labeled with broad-spectrum with an SPF 15 or higher are the most effective when used as directed with other sun protection measures. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, and more often if you’re sweating or jumping in and out of the water.

For the smartest ways to apply & reapply, here are some tips:

  • Your face alone may require a quarter-sized amount of sunscreen to ensure full coverage. This means you may need more to make sure your ears, neck and shoulders are covered. One full shot glass is recommended to cover your entire exposed body. (
  • Many popular sunscreens will advertise as water-resistant for up to 60 minutes. It may take you 5 minutes to reapply and another 10 minutes for the sunscreen to be full-absorbed by the skin. That’s why we recommend reapply every 45 minutes just to be safe!
  • When outdoors, stay in the shade whenever possible – particularly between the hours of 10:00 am – 4:00 p.m. when the sun’s rays are most intense.
  • Wear sun protective clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt, a wide-brimmed hat and UV protective sunglasses.

What is the difference between physical and chemical sun protection?

Sunscreen products have multiple ways of defending your skin from UVA/UVB & Broad Spectrum light. These active ingredients layer the surface of the skin to absorb, scatter and reflect the UV radiation before it reaches the skin.

Read below the differences between Physical and Chemical SPF:

Sunscreens with chemical-based ingredients, such as homosalate, work by absorbing UV rays before they can damage your skin.

Physical or mineral-based UV ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide create a barrier on your skin’s surface that reflects UV rays. Some sun protection products include a mix of both chemical and mineral sun filters7—and you can learn more about these ingredients here. However, the key for optimal sun protection is proper application8, and it’s essential to apply an adequate amount of sunscreen to cover exposed skin and reapply as directed.5

Physical SPF

Also known as mineral-based and uses ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that form a barrier above the skin to reflect UV rays.

  • PROS: Ideal for daily and prolonged, intense sun exposure. Naturally occurring minerals that are non-toxic for ocean life.
  • CONS: Can feel heavier on the skin and leave a white cast.

Chemical SPF

Ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate penetrate the top layers of the skin to absorb UV rays.

Both types are recommended to be applied 15 minutes prior to sun exposure.

Source: FDA

Mazzi’s Sunscreen Recommendations

Here are some of my personal faves I’ve discovered through trying and testing them myself! For someone with sensitive skin, it’s the simple ingredients and clean feeling that make these products winners for me. Shoot me an email with your favorite sunscreen if you think it’s an awesome product worth trying!

Face (everyday)

Supergoop – Unseen Sunscreen

A cult favorite and San Antonio founded brand that I love. Imagine a sunscreen that doesn’t feel sticky or heavy or even smell like sunscreen.

Supergoop unseen has an almost balm-like texture, but it is not oily at all, totally invisible, weightless, scentless, and leaves a velvety finish.

I use it under make-up, every day.

Face (with makeup)

Think – Naturally Tinted Sunscreen

This is my go-to when I work in the garden or spend any time outdoors.

Enriched with Vitamin C & E along with a slight tint to reduce whitening from trace minerals, this ultra-moisturizing sunscreen can help to reduce skin aging by 24% when worn daily.

Quick-drying and gentle enough for sensitive skin, this non-toxic formula provides a highly effective base for easy makeup application blending seamlessly into all skin tones.

Body + Kids

Thinksport – Kids Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+ (6oz) – Family Size

This local Austin brand is one that I adore! I put this all over myself and the kids when we spend our summers out in the hot Texas sun.

Effective for playtime in the sun and water, this non-toxic, mineral-based sunscreen keeps even the most active kids sun-safe while exploring.

We buy the big tube and keep it on hand year-round.

Up Next Week: Acne Care

We’ll be hopping right into the basics of acne care, with step-by-step tutorials and product recommendations. Stay tuned for guest skin experts like dermatologists and estheticians who share their advanced tips on skincare once you’ve mastered the basics of Latika’s Skincare 101.

If there are specific questions you have about skincare that you would like us to answer in future editions – feel free to comment below!

Let’s get sk-in to it!