Do higher SPF sunscreen save you from sun damage?

There’s something we all look forward to today–the long weekend is (finally!) here. Beach vacations are popular and affordable, but if you don’t take care of your skin under the sun, summer beaches can be harmful to your health. We all know that the first step of anti-aging skin care regimens is to apply sunscreen. But do sunscreens with high SPF really save you from sun damage?

 

What is SPF?

SPF means Sun Protection Factor, which essentially means the sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB (one type of UV radiation) from damaging your skin. This translates to: it takes 15 times longer for the sun to damage your skin with an SPF 15 screen than with no protection at all. According to Skin Cancer Foundation, most SPF 15 sunscreens are sufficient to protect your skin against UVB.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation damages the elastic fibers in the skin and causes sunspots. In other words, exposure to the sun makes you age faster and increases the risk of skin cancer, such as melanoma.

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Malignant melanoma

Is higher SPF better?

In theory, higher SPF offers better skin protection from UVB: SPF 15 sunscreens block 93 percent of UVB radiation, while SPF 30 sunscreens block nearly 97 percent.

However, the increase in protection is minimal after SPF 50. In addition, because the testing process uses more screen than what we normally put on our skin, we actually only receive around ⅓ of the labeled value in everyday life. While sunscreens with high SPF prevent sunburn (mainly caused by UVB), it doesn’t protect you from UVA, which accelerates skin aging, damages your skin and contributes to skin cancer.

The FDA also lists other factors that causes sun damaged skin, including skin type, reapplication frequency and solar intensity of the geographic location.

 

Do your sunscreens live up to their claims?

Many sunscreens on the market do not live up to their claims. Consumer Reports tested 104 products from four years, discovering that only 52 percent of sunscreens meet their claims.

Consumer Reports - Sunscreen SPF report

 

The best vacation is a safe one and the best sunscreen is the one you’ll use, so keep the above key points in mind to protect your skin in the sun. If you get severe sunburn, it’s best to seek medical advice to prevent it from developing into skin cancer. 

Ask a dermatologist today!

Post Snapshot

While you’re at the beach, keep in mind:

  • Both water and sand reflect sunlight
  • Fair-skinned people absorb more solar energy
  • Reapply sunscreen frequently, especially after activities near water or heavy sweating
  • Avoid exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Keep infants under 6 months out of the sun

Related post:

Can your phone diagnose melanoma?

Skin Deep? The dangers of both indoor tanning and skin lightening

Sunburns: It’s time to get real

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