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Higher isn’t necessarily better. Find out what number SPF you should be wearing.
are higher SPF sunscreens better?
The answer may surprise you
You’re shopping for sunscreen and the numbers flash before you in the aisles: SPF 5, SPF 15, SPF 30, SPF 45, SPF 75... If you’re looking for optimal protection, you go with the highest SPF you can find, right?
Not so fast.
Dermatologists and aestheticians typically recommend an SPF of at least 30 every day for both indoor and outdoor activity. While an SPF of 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, an SPF of 30 blocks 97% and an SPF of 50 blocks 98%, going higher than 50 doesn’t increase your protection by any significant amount. So as long as you are using an SPF of at least 30 daily, you’re good to go.
In fact, the higher the SPF, the more likely most people are to neglect reapplying their sunscreen after several hours in the sun, believing that they are protected for longer because of that high number on the bottle. This can lead to sunburn, blistering and – when practiced routinely – precancer that may eventually lead to the occurrence of skin cancer.
Here are the quick facts:
- The term SPF, or sun protection factor, is a measurement of UVB protection. UVB rays are the burning rays, while UVA rays are the aging rays, leading to wrinkles and dark spots on the skin. By choosing a higher SPF, you may avoid a sunburn, but UVA rays may still be getting through. This is why choosing a sunscreen that offers “broad spectrum” protection is essential to protect against both UVB and UVA rays.
- Not sure your sunscreen has enough UVA-blocking ingredients? Look for the following on your product’s label: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, ecamsule or oxybenzone.
- Don’t be fooled by a false sense of security by choosing an SPF over 50. You should still reapply every two hours – or every 60-80 minutes when swimming or sweating. Seek the shade and wear a wide-brimmed hat, as well as other sun-protective clothing when out in the sun for prolonged periods. You can even buy SPF-infused clothing to wear for your next trip outside.
- A shot glass worth of sunscreen is recommended on the entire body, applied 15 minutes before leaving the house, to assure the product has time to start working in the skin before being exposed to the sun.
- A broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 should be a staple in your daily skincare regimen – no matter the season, time of day or type of weather. UV rays penetrate clouds and reflect off the snow, so don’t be fooled into thinking that just because it’s raining or the dead of winter that you don’t need to apply an SPF.
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your SPF questions answered
Courtney Hare, aesthetician at Maryland Dermatology Laser, Skin & Vein, answers the most common SPF questions
your SPF questions answered
Aesthetician and PCA SKIN Professional, Marion Simms of Skin Sense Wellness Spa, answers the most common SPF questions.