Are you confused about SPF? Join the club

The SPF rating system was developed back in 1962 by Franz Greiter to measure the capacity of a sunscreen to block UVB radiation. The current SPF rating system applies to UVB rays only, since those are the rays that cause sunburn.

Now we know that UVA radiation is also a huge factor in damaging the skin. We don’t feel the effects of UVA rays because they don’t cause sunburn. They penetrate deeper into the skin and cause bigger problems – skin cancer and wrinkles.

At the present time there is NO approved Sun Protection Factor rating system that measures UVA rays. The FDA and other scientists are working on this.

How does the Sun-Protection Factor system really work?

The Sun-protection factor system measures the length of time a sunscreen will protect your skin from reddening / burning from UVB rays, compared to how long your skin would take to redden/ burn without sunscreen protection.

Let’s say, it takes about 20 minutes without sunscreen for your skin to become reddish and start to burn, theoretically by using a sunscreen with an SPF-15 it should prevent the reddening/ burning of the skin 15 times longer -- about 5 hours.

In Europe, Sunscreen manufactures are limited to claiming an Sun Protection Factor of 50+, in Australia it is even more strict – they can only claim an SPF 30+, while here in the United States, it is bit more willy-nilly.

You can find Sun protection products rated from 2-100 on the market now.

The big question is - Do these Super High numbers really give you more protection?

The answer is YES and NO

YES - you can stay out longer without getting burned – Provided you put on enough in the first place.

NO - Most people don’t apply as much sunscreen as recommended or needed, thus making an SPF-30 work more like an SPF-15. If you only start with an SPF-15, it’s more like an SPF-5.

It all depends on how much suntan lotion you use and how often you reapply.


NO– Higher Sun Protection Factor numbers don't necessarily mean you are protected against UVA rays.

There is very little difference in added protection, as the protection factor numbers go higher.

However, that does not mean it's not worth it, because even small amounts of exposure can add up to a great deal of sun damage.

SPF-15-30-50 Guide:

•15- 1/15 of the UVB rays get through to your skin - blocking about 93%.

•30- 1/30 of the UVB rays get through to your skin - blocking about 97%.

•50- 1/50 of the UVB rays get through to your skin - blocking about 98%.

Remember - the current system only rates the time / protection against UVB rays – as stated, there is no rating system for UVA protection,

How do I choose the right protection factor in my sunscreen?

The “active ingredients” are the key.

Look on the label for these UVA-protecting sunscreen ingredients:

• titanium dioxide

• zinc oxide

• avobenzone

• mexoryl SX

Still confused?

Here is what I do:

For every day use, put on a daily moisturizer with SPF-15+ included.

For outdoor activities and sunbathing: I use sunscreens with at least 8-10% Zinc Oxide and an SPF-30+. I like waterproof or water-resistant sunscreens for the hottest days of Summer. These won’t sweat or wash-off easily. Re-apply often.

The Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends the sunscreen you use must be at least a Sun-Protection-Factor of 15+.

Some form of sunscreen should be applied every day of the year. Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall.

Remember - there is no such thing as 100 % sun protection in sunscreen

Some fast facts about sunscreen:

Sunscreen brands and sunscreen ratings:

All the different types of sunscreens:

The effectiveness of sunscreens and does sunscreen expire?

Tips on how to apply sunscreen

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