Before getting outside and indulging in everything that spring has to offer, it’s important to have proper protection from the sun. In addition to preventing painful sunburns due to ultraviolet ray exposure, the application of sunscreen can also cut down on the risk of developing painful blisters and lesions and devastating cancers, like melanoma. However, before heading to the store, it’s essential to understand the appropriate SPF level for skin type and tone, and how to properly apply sunscreen, regardless of its SPF.

What is SPF?

SPF stands for sun protection factor and it pertains to the amount of UV rays that reach the skin after a coating of sunscreen has been applied. For example, a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 15 blocks out about 93% of UV radiation and provides a degree of protection for a person who is planning on only spending a short amount of time in direct sunlight. A higher SPF does not mean that a person can spent a long period of time in the sun, only that a higher percentage of UV are being blocked out. It’s also advisable to purchase a sunscreen that offers broad spectrum protection as sunscreen that blocks skin scorching long wave ultraviolet type A rays is ineffective against short wave ultraviolet type B rays, which doesn’t leave visible traces of the damage it inflicts, but can have a deleterious effect on a person’s DNA all the same.

Knowing Your Skin Type

Persons with a family history of melanoma or other skin cancers should definitely use a sunscreen with a high SPF before venturing outdoors. The same goes for those living with melasama. For skin that is especially dry, a cream or lotion form of sunscreen is the best option while an alcohol or gel based sunscreen is best for individuals with particularly oily skin. Although older individuals have received large doses of UV light over the course of their lives, they should still use sunscreen, preferably of the spray on variety as it’s easier to use for those with reduced mobility and dexterity..

The Importance of Skin Tone

UV rays affect different skin tones in very different ways. Darker, more melanin-rich skin tones are less susceptible to sunburns and, consequently, don’t require sunscreens with an SPF level pass the single digits. The same is true of medium skin tones that generally tan rather than burn. Light, fair, and very fair-skinned individuals should apply a thick coating of high SPF sunscreen before going out, even for just a few minutes.

Proper Application is Key

Sunscreen of any SPF rating is ineffective if not applied to the skin in the correct manner. Sunscreen should be applied to the skin about 30 minutes before going out and it should be coated on every area of skin that will be exposed to the sun. Sunscreen should also  be reapplied every 2 hours and immediately after a period of profuse sweating. It’s also smart to wear a water-resistant sunscreen if you’re heading to the beach or a pool. And, whenever possible, sunscreen should be used in tandem in protective clothing. While utilizing high SPF sunscreen does not guarantee safety from sun damage, taking steps to minimize UV exposure whenever possible is always the right course of action.

Mario McKellop is a freelance writer who has covered the pop culture beat since 2010.