The Trouble With Ultra High SPF Sunscreens

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We’ve all seen the sunscreens on the market touting 50, 75, or even 100 SPF. You’d think that they must be better since that number is so astronomically high. But with melanoma rates on the rise, do these products really work any better than an SPF 15 or 30?

Sorry, not so, says the Environmental Working Group, who actually believes that manufacturers should stop selling high-SPF products (those at 50+) altogether.

The FDA has also expressed concern that SPF higher than 50 is “inherently misleading.” In fact, in 2011, the agency proposed a regulation to prohibit labels higher than SPF 50+ but hasn’t completed its work. And in other countries, some of these rules are already in effect. In Australia (which arguably leads the world in its policies on sun care), the governing body caps SPF values at 30.

So, What’s Wrong With High SPFs?

  • Users Ignore Basic Sun Safety: The big danger of ultra high SPFs is that studies show that they dangerously lull people into a false sense of security: they end up staying out longer and waiting too long to reapply, wrongly believing that the high SPF will protect them. Bottom line: it won’t.
  • Not That Much Added Protection in Reality: It’s important to understand what happens when your skin is exposed to the sun. UV radiation comes in the form of UVB and UVA rays. SPFs mostly measure UVB protection. To a certain extent, higher SPFs do help. An SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB radiation, while an SPF 30 blocks 97 percent. In a nutshell, you’re exposing your skin to a large amount of chemicals, with not that much added benefit.
  • Chemical Exposure: These ultra-high SPF sunscreens also expose you to a large amount of chemicals. Chemical sunscreens are absorbed by the skin (yuck!), while non-chemical mineral based versions sit on skin’s surface and block UV rays.

How to Stay Safe in the Sun

Remember: If your child is spending his days in the sun, it’s still important to use other sun safety precautions like getting some time in the shade and covering up with a hat or sun-protective clothing (contrary to popular belief, regular clothing won’t cut it: a white T-shirt has an SPF of about 7 and when it gets wet, the SPF drops to 3.)

Minimize his exposure to harsh chemical sunscreens by choosing a natural one made with titanium dioxide like California Baby Super Sensitive Broad Spectrum SPF 30+ Sunscreen. And be sure to slather on enough and reapply often, especially if you and the kids are swimming or sweating. Studies show that users only get about a third of the protection offered by sunscreens because they’re not applying enough!

The trick is in the application: Create an even, effective layer over the skin… the easiest way to do this is to dot small amounts over dry skin and then blend.

Then go have fun!

1 Comment

  1. Shavon June 7, 2014 Reply

    this is interesting

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