Sun Protection Factors

Ah, summer in the city. For many that still means sunburns in the city. That’s really so 1970s, though. Back then sunscreens were relatively new, and we didn’t know a whole lot about the sun and our skin. But we now have plenty of knowledge about what the sun is doing to our skin. 

Thanks fer nuttin’, Coppertone Girl. 

Oh, and as for that sunburn. Every peeling sunburn you receive before your 30th birthday doubles your risk for later developing melanoma. Double ouch! 

In July’s first blog we went through some things you should be doing for your skin care in the summer in New York. Of course, one of those items was wearing sunscreen with an SPF, sun protection factor, of at least 30. 

In this second midsummer night’s blog, let’s see just what happens when you ramp up the SPF. 

What is SPF anyway? 

We all see the SPF numbers on sunscreen bottles. They don’t even sell the old stuff with SPF 2 any longer. You’re pretty hard-pressed to find much out there with anything less than SPF 15. 

So, what does that mean? SPF 15 means you could stay out in the sun 15 times longer when wearing that sunscreen before you would begin to sunburn than you could without any sunscreen on. An SPF of 30 would be 30 times longer; an SPF 50 would be 50 times longer. You get the idea. 

So, why not just go SPF 100 and call it good? 

Some people spend a lot of money to purchase elaborate skin products that promise an SPF of 75 or more. Are these products really blocking that much more sun? After all, you could stay in the sun 75 times longer, right? 

Not really. A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 allows about 3 percent of UVB rays (the rays that cause sunburn) to hit your skin. A sunscreen with an SPF of 50, however, still allows about 2 percent of the UVB rays to get through to your skin. For that 20 extra points of SPF, you’re likely to pay more money, especially for high-end brands. It does block somewhat more sun, but the actual difference isn’t really very much. 

You’d actually be served better by simply following the rules of the sunscreens. Most people don’t reapply sunscreen every two hours. This is especially true if they’re using a waterproof variety with higher SPF values. But the label says to re-apply every two hours, more often if you’re in the water. Do that reapplying more diligently and you’d likely overcome any difference in higher SPF that isn’t applied as often. 

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