Sunscreen – What the SPF Numbers Mean

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We have all heard that we need to wear sunscreen all year round, but the truth is, I only start thinking about it when it turns warm outside.  I’ve seen new products on the market with an SPF of 30…45…and higher.  What do these SPF (Sun Protection Factor) numbers mean? Is the extra money for the higher numbers really worth it?

But be careful when you’re shopping. SPF numbers are not necessarily consistent from brand to brand. Each company does its own testing, and there’s no standardized measure of a product’s stability. Find a brand that works and stick to it. Don’t be fooled by cheap prices.

Is SPF 100 twice as good as SPF 50?

No. The difference in protection is actually very small.  A sunscreen of SPF 100 blocks 99% of UVB rays. But the SPF 50 blocks 98% of rays.  SPF 30 blocks 97% of rays. SPF 15 shields the body from 94%. And none of these block UVA rays, which turn complexions sallow and may cause some skin cancers.  The bottle label doesn’t tell you this.

Plus remember that the SPF calculations are based on testing with a very thick coating and reapplying it every few hours. In fact, an SPF 30, worn the way most people apply it (thin and infrequent) actually only yields an SPF protection of about 2.

To get the best protection against too many harmful rays, follow these tips.

  1. Limit your unprotected sun exposure to 15 minutes daily. These few minutes in the sun are important in order to get your vital Vitamin D.
  2. After that, for fair complexions or children, apply an SPF 30 in a thick layer.  Reapply every 2-3 hours, again in a thick layer.
  3. Stay under umbrellas or wear T-shirts.
  4. Wear a hat and eye protection.
  5. Limit sun exposure during peak hours of 11 am – 2 pm.
  6. Limit sun exposure to a couple hours if you’re sun sensitive.
  7. Drink lots of water and fluids.

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