Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
Sun protection factor (SPF) is a number on sunscreen labels that
shows how long skin can be in the sun and maintain a low risk for sunburn.
The higher the SPF number, the longer it protects a person from the sun's burning rays.
It is important to read the information on the sunscreen label about the SPF factor listed on the label and how much protection it gives the skin. The sunscreen should be applied according to the directions on the label so it is most effective in protecting the skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays.
sunscreen gives total protection, but "broad-spectrum" sunscreens that contain
ingredients such as avobenzone, benzophenones, cinnamates, salicylates,
sulisobenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide usually protect from ultraviolet A and B (UVA and
UVB) rays. The label of the sunscreen product will say what types of UV rays it protects the skin from.
Sweating heavily, swimming, or doing other water activities reduces
the SPF because sweat or water on the skin will reduce the amount of protection
the sunscreen provides. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied more frequently during
Current as of:
November 14, 2014
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.