Don't believe "go big or go home" applies to SPF
One more thing. Despite what you’ve been told about higher SPFs, or sun protection factors, they will not make you invincible to the sun's scorching rays.
Here's the real deal with SPF: it's not a measurement of protection against cancer-causing UVA rays. SPF only measures your sunscreen’s ability to block UVB rays from damaging your skin. The higher the SPF, the higher the percentage of protection.
This would be great, except that it works algorithmically, not linearly. Check out this math:
- SPF 15 weeds out 93% of UVB rays
- SPF 30 catches 97%
- SPF 50 filters 98% of UVB radiation
As you can see, despite going up 20 digits in your SPF, you only get a 1% point increase in UVB protection, not a 20-point increase in protection.
Would this negligible amount be helpful for those with fair skin that burns easily? Maybe! But when you're buying that super-high SPF protection, know that it's not buying you much in added protection. In fact, the FDA wants the highest allowable SPF to be 50+, since that SPF 85 sunscreen is essentially selling you a false promise.
The other issue with spending more for higher SPFs is that these numbers aren't always accurate, especially if you're jumping in a pool regularly, or sweating, or not putting on enough. So you don't always need the highest SPF in town, and you can’t always trust the bottles, or your own ability to apply correctly.
There is good news, though! You don't have to lock yourself in your apartment until winter, as long as you stick to a few basic rules.
Before running around shirtless all summer...
- Avoid those lazy sprays: I know it’s a million times easier to spray on your sun protection, but these sprays can cause you to breathe your sunscreen, plus they tend to cause missed areas of protection.
- Find sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection: If your sunscreen is only fighting UVB rays, it’s like choosing to avoid cigarettes by only smoking cigars -- it makes no sense. You need protection from both UVA and UVB rays, so find a sunscreen that offers this.
- Re-apply often: Sunscreen’s not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing. Despite the fact that your bottle may claim to be water- and sweat-proof, re-apply according to the directions for best coverage and maximum protection.
- Choose mineral-based ingredients: Now that you’ve tossed out your chemical-laden sunscreens, replace them with versions you can feel good about. Look for sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide… if you can't or don't want to go that route, avobenzone is your best bet in the United States.
If you want a comprehensive, brand-by-brand guide to what's in your sunscreen and what science says about it, check out the EWG's recommendations. Remember: it puts the lotion on its skin; it does this whenever it's told. You need that vitamin D, after all.
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