We’ve been seeing a lot of high SPF products – SPF 70, 80, even 100 – but a higher SPF factor doesn’t necessarily mean better protection.
It helps to understand what SPF means. Sunscreens block ultraviolet light, but there are two kinds: UVA (which causes premature aging) and UVB (which causes sunburn. The SPF number shows you how much protection you get from UVB rays.
However, UVA rays are equally as dangerous than UVB. They’re not blocked by clouds, glass or the ozone layer and penetrate deep into the skin’s second layer. They cause sun damage (including wrinkles, leathery complexion, pigmentation) and are linked to skin cancer. Your SPF number does not indicate how much UVA protection you get.
The FDA has also called sunscreens above SPF 50 as “inherently misleading” (FDA 2007) and several international regulatory bodies have put an SPF cap: the Australian, European, Japanese set it to 50, and Canada set it to SPF 50+. That’s because we get negligible additional protection after SPF 50: if properly applied, SPF 50 sunscreen already blocks 98% and SPF 100 blocks 99%. There are studies currently exploring if the concentration of chemicals in extremely high SPF lotions can pose a health threat. There is no proof that they are dangerous, but there is no reassurance either that they are safe.
The FDA – as well as skin cancer organizations, dermatologists, and consumer boards – also warn that a high SPF creates a false sense of confidence: “I’m using SPF 100 – I’m safe!” However, in real life, most of us are not using sunscreen the way we should. Numerous studies show that we tend to use less than half the recommended amount (the equivalent of one vodka shot glass for your whole body, and 1/2 teaspoon for your face). If you apply SPF 100 sparingly, you could actually get a functional SPF as low as 3.2 – less effective than wearing a T-shirt!
In short, if you’re looking for good sun protection, don’t just look for high SPF. Here’s what to remember when shopping for a sunscreen:
Mei Hui is the Managing Director and Pharmacist of The Skin Pharmacy. She is not a natural writer (please excuse the spelling and grammatical errors!) but she is very passionate about The Skin Pharmacy, anything related to health and wellness and life, in general. These articles are her own views which may not always be shared by others. Please feel free to comment below the articles if you wish. Happy reading!