Higher SPF Doesn't Mean Better Sun Protection

Higher SPF Doesn't Mean Better Sun Protection

In Florida, we're always concerned about protecting our skin from the suns harmful rays, however, many other states may only start to pay attention to this closer to the start of summer. It's very important to know that choosing a sunscreen with a higher SPF (for example 100 SPF) won't better protect your skin.

There are two types of sun rays you should be concerned about, UVA and UVB. Nneka Leiba, Director of healthy living science at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), said that when you look at a bottle of sunscreen at the store and see "100 SPF" plastered on the front, keep in mind that the SPF value only tells you how the sunscreen performs against UVB rays. These are the sun rays associated with sunburn.

“But when we’re thinking about sun protection, we need to be protecting ourselves from both UVA and UVB rays, because both of them are associated with skin cancer and skin damage,” Leiba said.

Higher SPF Doesn't Mean Better Sun Protection

To best protect your skin from sunburn, skin cancer, and skin damage, Leiba recommends that you choose a sunscreen with an SPF between 30 and 50. These sunscreens should offer well-balanced protection from UVA and UVB rays. “And often with the high SPF products, it’s hard to maintain a good balance,” Leiba said.

Research has also found that when people use higher SPF sunscreen, they often misuse it. When people purchase and use higher SPF sunscreen, they tend to stay longer in the sun and reapply sunscreen less often. This leads to prolonged sun exposure and increased risk of skin damage.

Besides choosing a mid-level SPF sunscreen, the Environmental Working Group also suggests using sunscreens with mineral-active ingredients. Leiba recommends using sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium oxide. She said that they're your best bet for both safety and efficacy. Other non-mineral sunscreens use chemicals to block UV rays. The EWG found links between these chemicals, like oxybenzone, and undesirable health outcomes.

The EWG also recommends that you avoid sunscreens that contain vitamin A. Although vitamin A is awesome in night cream, it can speed up the development of skin lesions when exposed to the sun.

Don't worry if a sunscreen is marketed toward children either. Sunscreens made for kids and babies are safe and effective for adult use. These sunscreens usually have fewer allergenic ingredients and less fragrance.

The last thing Leiba said was to remember that sunscreen is only one tool that you can use to protect your skin from the sun. Wearing hats, clothing, and avoiding mid-day sun are just as important. “Skin cancers are on the rise, so it’s really important to take a holistic look at our relationship with the sun,” she said.


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