My ancestry is Irish. One look at me, and you’ll know that’s true. I have red highlights in my hair (even when I’m not applying it from a bottle!), fair complexion, and freckles on nearly every inch of my body. I even like Gaelic music! I’m Irish through and through. Therefore—with good reason—in 2002 and as I was preparing for my trip to Israel, a friend who’d already spent a few weeks there told me to “be sure to bring a good SPF.”

“I used SPF 45 yesterday,” she wrote in an email. “And I cooked!”

Every morning while in the Holy Land I applied foundation with SPF 15. Then I rubbed my arms and legs down with sun block with SPF 45. I kept the sun block with me during the day, reapplying often enough that my skin never blistered—even in the 112-degree heat at the Dead Sea.

When you go out in the sun, do you use SPF 15? 35? 45? Are you aware that even if you tan easily, the sun can produce havoc on your skin?

My growing up years were near the coast of Savannah. Summers were spent at Tybee Island. I distinctly remember looking at the women who “worshipped the sun,” as my mother put it. One afternoon, as she and I were walking along the boardwalk, I asked her, “Why does their skin look like leather?”

“They’ve spent too much time in the sun,” she told me.

I recall suntan lotion from those days (remember the Coppertone girl?), but nothing that mentioned SPF. Today it’s as common for us to know our SPF number as it is our Social Security number. But do you even know what SPF means?

The Body Beautiful/Physical

SPF relates only to UVB rays. There are three different types of UV rays: UVC, UVA, and UVB.

UVC rays are the most damaging. Fortunately, the ozone layer keeps us from all being fry-babies. (Of course we all know about the treats to the ozone layer.)

UVA rays are not blocked by the ozone layer. Out of the three, UVA is the least damaging, but that hardly keeps it from being harmless. UVA is the culprit behind premature aging (boo-hiss!). It can damage blood vessels and even affect our DNA.

UVB are not entirely blocked by the ozone layer, but are by 99 percent. They are more prevalent in summer and only affect the outer layer of skin, but don’t think all that means they’re harmless. UVB rays cause sunburn faster and are the major cause of melanoma (skin cancer).

SPF means Sun Protection Factor as it relates to sunscreens, the purpose of which is to block UV rays from burning the skin at a higher rate than without sunscreen. The numbers correlate to the amount of time a person is able to stay in the sun with the sunscreen vs. without it. For example, SPF 15 means a person can play or stay in the sun 15 times longer than without sunscreen.

Sunscreen—like most things in life—has practical application tips to insure they work best.

1.     Apply about 20 minutes before you go out in the sun.

2.     Remember to reapply often.

3.     Don’t think that just because you applied a higher SPF you don’t have to reapply. Even a high SPF can be sweated or wiped off, especially during work or play.

If you do sunburn, there’s both good news and bad news. The bad news is, there’s no cure. As a gal with fair complexion and my fair share of sunburns, I can tell you that I’ve tried just about everything to combat the pain and swelling of a severe burn (right down to putting baking soda in a tub of water and letting the combination “pull” the sting out. It was truly more painful than childbirth!). Cool baths, compresses, and moisturizers will also help as well as cooling gels, etc. However, if you develop a fever or chills (as I did once), upset stomach or confusion you must consult your physician.