Many of us are guilty of going to the store and buying the sunscreen with the highest SPF on the label, without much consideration for anything else. Well, the problem is that sunscreens with a higher SPF don't actually have much, if any, added sun protection than more moderately labeled SPF ratings. Before we get too deep into this however, let's talk about what SPF actually means.
SPF stands for "sun protection factor" and basically represents the amount of time that can be spent in the sun without becoming sun burned. On average, a person can be in the sun for about 30 minutes before becoming sun burned. The SPF number on your sunscreen tells you how many times more than this you are able to stay in the sun. For example, an SPF label of 10 means that you are able to stay in the sun for about 300 minutes, or 5 hours after one application without becoming burned. Similarly, an SPF of 100 implies that you can stay in the sun for 50 hours without being burned. Sounds like a ridiculously large figure right? Well the problem (as you can imagine) is that for high SPFs like this, this formula doesn't really work out to be true. In fact, once SPF reaches a point greater than 50, there is almost no difference in the level of protection that is offered by the sunscreen. What's more is that random testing of sunscreens revealed that many sunscreens that claim to have SPF 100 protection actually only contain between 30 and 70 SPF. So, why should you avoid using the higher SPF sunscreens? Well, other than the above, here's a list of some of the reasons:
1. Because the higher SPF products are focused on preventing sunburn (caused by UVB rays), they do not offer much protection against UVA rays. Why does that matter? Well although UVB rays are associated with superficial skin damage (burns) and melanomas (a type of serious, often fatal skin cancer). However, UVA rays penetrate deeper and actually are more likely to cause skin cancer. Since SPF is focused on only preventing UVB rays from entering the skin, they often offer little to no protection against these UVA rays, often even less protection than some of the lower SPF sunscreens.
2. Because of the high number on the bottle, people tend not to re-apply sunscreens with higher SPFs often enough, resulting in more skin damage than they would have had using the lower SPF options. Although some sunscreens with higher SPFs can theoretically be applied only once over the course of several hours, it is recommended that ALL sunscreens, no matter what the SPF value is, are applied every 2 hours to ensure the proper level of protection is maintained.
3. In addition to not applying sunscreen frequently enough, many people don't apply enough sunscreen during each application. For example, using only 25% of the "recommended" amount of sunscreen in an application of SPF 30 will lead to a protection of only SPF 2.3! Again, if the SPF on the label is higher, people tend to use less of it, exposing themselves to more harmful radiation
So what do you do? Well, it's typically recommended that you get a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 to 50. This will give you the protection you need without many of the potential side effects!
The Procter & Gamble Company. Comments on the Revised Effectiveness Determination; Sunscreen Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use (Docket No. FDA-1978-N-0018, RIN 0910-AF43). September 15, 2011.
Autier P, Dore JF, Negrier S, Lienard D, Panizzon R, Lejeune FJ, Guggisber D, Eggermont AMM. 1999. Sunscreen Use and Duration of Sun Exposure: a Double-Blind, Randomized Trial. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 91(15): 1304-1309.
EWG. What's Wrong With High SPF?
Dr. Alesha Fleming. Natural Health and Wellness Chiropractic, LLC. Daytona Beach, FL. www.nhwchiro.com/summer
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