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Does A Higher SPF Sunscreen Protect You Better?
A lot of people ask me this question: Does higher SPF mean better skin protection?
It is a very good question. Most of us are not even aware of the meaning and the implication of the SPF number stated on the sunscreen bottle. In this part of the world, sunscreen is an essential item that everyone should have. There are a lot of sunscreens with different SPFs available over the counter these days. How do I choose which one to get? Let us find out.
First of all, SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect skin from UVB rays. UVB ray is a kind of radiation that causes sunburns, damages skin, causing pigmentations, premature skin aging, and contributing to skin cancer.
Does that mean the higher the SPF is, the better it protects your skin from all these problems? The answer is not that simple.
The SPF scale is not linear:
SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays
As you can see, an increase from SPF 30 to SPF 50 offers very little additional protection against UVB. If you do not know this, you may risk exposing yourself to the sun for a longer duration thinking that SPF 50 is way better that SPF 30. In other words, applying a sunscreen with high SPF may give you a false sense of security, prompting you to stay out in the sun longer. Products with very high SPFs may also encourage you to neglect ways to protect yourself from sun, like seeking the shade and wearing sun-protective clothing.
Higher SPF does not mean much better protection
It is important to know that UV radiation from the sun reaches the earth in the form of UVA and UVB. Both UVA and UVB can cause skin problems mentioned earlier, but UVB is the main culprit for sunburn. Unfortunately, SPF does not measure how well a sunscreen will protect you from UVA. Therefore, individuals applying high SPF sunscreens may not burn, but without UVA-screening ingredients, they can still receive a large amount of skin-damaging radiation. To avoid such scenario, Regulatory bodies in Europe and Australia have adopted UVA testing guidelines, and capped the SPF of sunscreens at 50+
SPF measures protection from UVB rays but not UVA rays
How do I choose which sunscreen to use then?
You need to protect yourself from both UVA and UVB. Therefore, do not look at SPF alone. Read the ingredients carefully. A sunscreen with SPF no less than 30 and no more than 50 is good enough to protect you from UVB. Any SPF beyond that offers very minimal additional benefit. You sunscreen should include some combination of UVA-blocking ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, ecamsule and oxybenzone. These suncreens are usually labelled as “multi-spectrum”, “broad-spectrum”or UVA/UVB protection”.