8? 30? 45? 100?
What am I blathering about? SPF numbers. Remember in the days when sunscreen was reserved only for the beach, how you could find only 2 or 3 SPF numbers on the shelves?
Well, things have changed a lot since then. Sunscreen is now big business. It is used daily. And SPF numbers have multiplied.
It’s not unusual now to come across sunscreens with SPF 100 or higher. Surely, they are the most effective, right? Well, not really. A smaller number may surprisingly benefit your skin more. Here’s why:
How SPF Works
Once upon a time, I thought the SPF number referred to the amount of protection the sunscreen offered from all UV rays, both the sunburn-inducing UVB and wrinkle-causing UVA (they both contribute to the formation of cancer). I was wrong.
SPF simply determines the amount of time you can stay in the sun without burning. Here’s an example. Let’s say that your skin starts to burn about 20 minutes of unprotected sun exposure. Then, you put on SPF 15. That’ll protect your skin 15 times longer. That’s five hours.
That’s great to know. But it also means that SPF protects us only from UVB rays. What about UVA rays? You’ll have to look at the label and make sure it says broad-spectrum. If not, leave it on the shelf. It’s a waste of your money.
Even though SPF doesn’t tell the whole story, it’s still an important factor to take into consideration. Sunburns make us more susceptible to skin cancer. Five of them double our risk of developing melanoma! Scary, huh?
So how to choose the right SPF number to keep you safe? Here’s a small guide:
It’s rare to find a sunscreen with SPF lower than 15. It’s usually cosmetics with SPF that come with such a low number. If you want to buy and use them go ahead. Just don’t believe they are going to keep your skin protected from the sun. Any number under 15 simply can’t offer adequate sun protection.
15 seems such a low number too, but it blocks a whopping 93% of UVB radiation. Dermatologists agree that’s the minim recommended for daily wear. Daily wear means casual wear.
No, not I’ll put it on today and not tomorrow (never do that!). Casual means days you stay mostly indoors. You’re leaving the house or the office just to walk to your car and do short errands.
On such days, I turn to my trusted Sunumbra Daily SPF 15. But if I’m going to be outdoors for a while, especially on hot summer days, I switch to something more powerful. SPF 15 is just not going to cut it.
Why am I putting such different numbers together? Because SPF, sadly, doesn’t increase exponentially. SPF 30 blocks nearly 97% of UVB rays, while SPF 50 98%. Who would have thought the difference was so minimal?
But it is. So, if you’re going to take part in any outdoor activities, such as walking your dog, go for a picnic, or have a coffee sitting outside on the patio, you want to use a sunscreen number in this range.
As soon as the temperatures start to rise and the sun to shine brightly in the sky, I do the switch. Sunumbra Daily SPF 15 is replaced by Sunumbra Sunkids SPF40. I like Sunumbra sunscreens because they are zinc oxide based but don’t leave that ghostly white residue on my skin.
But Neutrogena Ultimate Sport Sunblock Lotion SPF 30 and Paula’s Choice Extra Care Non-Greasy Sunscreen SPF 50 are wonderful options for all skin types, including oily, too. Whether you’re just running errands or enjoying a day at the beach, they’ll keep your skin well-protected all summer long.
I’m not a big fan of sunscreens with a higher than 50 SPF. SPF 70 or even SPF 100 surely sound very tempting. But no sunscreen can provide 100% protection from UV rays. Even SPF 100 blocks only 99%. So, you’re paying more for almost no added protection.
But that’s not why I don’t like them. High SPF numbers give us a false sense of security. It’s easy to believe that, because we’re wearing SPF 100, our skin will be protected all day long. No need to reapply it so often. But that can be a deadly mistake.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to SPF, higher isn’t always better. SPF 15 is enough to keep your skin safe in winter. But when the warm season arrives, or you enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors, switch to a SPF between 30 and 50. That’ll give you skin all the protection it needs.
What SPF number are you using?