The higher the better, right? That’s not the case for sunscreens’ SPFs. Summertime is in full swing, which means lots and lots of sun. With all this sun comes the sun exposure with it and the need to keep your skin protected.
Theoretically, applying sunscreen with a higher SPF would enable a person to expose their skin for a longer duration of time. Although, theory and reality are two different things and there has been quite a bit of controversy behind the discrepancy between reality and theory.
So, what’s wrong with SPF values greater than 50?
- Marginally better sunburn protection
- Properly applied SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98 % of sunburn rays; SPF 100 blocks 99% of sunburn rays. When used correctly, sunscreen with SPF values in the range of 30 and 50 will offer adequate sunburn protection, even for people most sensitive to sunburn.
- Poorer balance
- The chemicals that form a product’s sun protection factor are aimed at blocking ultraviolet B rays, which are the primary cause of sunburn and non-melanoma skin cancers. Ultraviolet A rays penetrate deeper into the skin (suppresses the immune system and is associated with higher the risk of developing melanoma) and are harder to block with sunscreen ingredients approved by the FDA for use in U.S sunscreens; as a result of the FDA’s restrictions on ingredients and concentrations, U.S sunscreens offer far less protection against UVA than UVB, particularly those products with the highest SPF. Because UVA and UVB protection do not harmonize, high-SPF products suppress sunburn much more effectively than other types of sun damage.
- High-SPF products may not really be high SPF
- Very small differences in testing conditions can have a dramatic influence on the calculated SPF such as light transmission and application thickness. Because of the way SPF values are calculated these sorts of errors would be most dramatic for high SPF products. The intense UV light used in lab SPF tests are different than the conditions experienced in the real world, and are of questionable value.
- Consumers misuse high-SPF products
- High-SPF products tend to lead users into staying in the sun longer and overexposing themselves to both UVA and UVB rays. Drenched with a false sense of security, people prolong their time in the sun well past the point when users of low-SPF products get out the sun. As a result, they get as many UVB-inflicted sunburns as unprotected sunbathers and are likely to absorb more damaging UVA radiation.
- High-SPF products may have greater risks to health
- High SPF products require higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals than low SPF sunscreens. Some of these ingredients may pose health risks when they penetrate the skin, where they have been linked to tissue damage and potential hormone disruption; some may trigger allergic reactions. In reality, SPF products higher than 50 are less effective than t-shirts, which generally have a SPF of 5. Numerous studies show that sunscreen users apply far less sunscreen than used in the FDA-mandated SPF test. When someone applies only 25% of the expected amount of SPF 30, the sunburn protection on the skin isn’t the same as the expected amount of protection.
I can see why SPF values can be misleading. They are just like any other consumer product. The greater the value, the better the product, most of the time. With sunscreen, it makes sense; it’s almost the same to applying lotion. The more lotion on your skin, the softer/healthier your skin will be.
Here’s some recommended sunscreens to try this summer:
- Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Face Stick, SPF 50
- Kabana Organic Skincare Green Screen D Sunscreen, Original, SPF 35
- Loving Naturals Sunscreen Clear Defense, SPF 35+
- Nature’s Gate Sunscreen (Aqua Vegan, Face, Kid’s Mineral Vegan, Sport Mineral)
- Tropical Sands Sunscreen, Coconut Scented, SPF 30
- True Natural All Natural Sunscreen Baby and Family, SPF 30
What makes a sunscreen ineffective is if the SPF value is greater than 50, which contains chemicals that are harmful to your health (oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate).
More isn’t always better for you and it’s important to keep in mind to keep your skin protected this summer. It’s perfectly fine to soak up the sun, but do it in the safest way possible. “30 to 50” should be the motto when picking the best sunscreen for you this summer!