Choosing Your Sun Protection Wisely - Part IIIIf you’ve shopped for sun protection products lately, you have probably noticed the proliferation of products with ever-higher sun protection factor (SPF) ratings. Just a few years ago, it was hard to find a sunscreen claiming an SPF higher than 45. These days, the shelves are lined with products touting SPF ratings all over the board.
All sunscreens are labeled with their SPF. This measures the amount of UVB radiation needed to cause sunburn with the sunscreen on, compared to the amount required to burn without it. You might think that, if you want to prevent sun damage, a higher SPF value would offer more protection. Unfortunately, SPF does not take into account the damage done by UVA rays and it fails to account for the damage done by sunscreens after sun exposure. The higher the SPF, the higher the levels of estrogenic and inflammatory ingredients, though the amount of additional protection does not increase dramatically. For example, SPF 15 absorbs 93 percent of UVB rays, whereas SPF 30 absorbs 97 percent, and SPF 50 absorbs 98 percent. We recommend sticking with SPF 15 protection. This allows the average person the ability to stay in the sun three-plus hours without getting burned (which is enough for most). It also minimizes the exposure to toxic chemicals that will be absorbed into the body.
The other deceptive aspect of SPF is its lack of UVA protection. Due to the false sense of security from SPF and without the burning rays providing us with a warning to get out of the sun, we tend to stay outdoors longer. Many people also mistakenly associate the lack of sunburn with complete protection. While wearing sunscreen, UVA rays will still be affecting deeper lying skin cells, leading to potential long-term damage.
Broad spectrum sunblocks, which protect against both UVA and UVB rays, in theory, offer protection against the full spectrum of UV light. Titanium and zinc are effective in that regard, but they need constant reapplication. This makes them a challenge if you are swimming or perspiring. For this reason, most people select a combination product that has both a sunscreen for UVB protection and a UVA blocker. If you select this method of protection, it is important to remember that UVA blockers wash off easily, leaving the skin exposed again. Using this type of sunscreen means you are not being protected from UVB after the initial dip in the pool.