July 23, 2013 Sally Bjornsen
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SUNSCREEN PROTECTION LEVELS CAN BE CONFUSING

Who Knew Sunscreen Protection Levels Could be so Confusing?

My husband just brought home some new sun screen.  When he took it out of the bag he held it up in triumph “its 100 SPF you’ll never get burned again.” Wishful thinking.  After years using SPF 15, then 30, then 50, 75 and now 100 I am left wondering “when will we get to 500 and maybe even 1,000 SPF?” And why is it that most moisturizers, foundations and lip balms from some of the fancier manufacturers only have a 30 SPF when they could be giving us a whopping 100? Who Knew Sunscreen Protection Levels Could be so Confusing? I ended up doing a little research to get to the bottom of the growing numbers.

Here’s the scoop.  SPF 30 blocks approximately 97 percent of the sun’s harmful rays. 50 SPF blocks 98 percent. As the numbers go higher the increase in protection is negligible.  The Skin Cancer Foundation calls it “infinitesimal,” the difference between SPF 50 and 100? According to Darrell Rigel, M.D. clinical professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center says 1 percent.

The advice given by the people in the know is to make sure you have proper application of the screen you are using.  A teaspoon to the face and a shot glass-ful for the body, reapplied every two hours (no matter how high the SPF) when in sunlight or after a swim.  Make sure your sunscreen protects against both UVB and UVA rays. And make sure your screen says “Broad Spectrum,” says Robert Friedman, MD. clinical professor of dermatology at the NYU school of Medicine, “Otherwise you’re wasting your time.”

Here are some good facts from the American Melanoma Foundation

Look for a sunscreen that is “waterproof” or “water-resistant,” especially if you participate in outdoor physical activity.

Is there a difference between “waterproof” and “water-resistant?”
How well the sunscreen stays on the skin after swimming, bathing or perspiring is just as important as the SPF level. The FDA considers a product “water-resistant” if it maintains its SPF level after 40 minutes of water exposure. A product is considered “waterproof” if it maintains its SPF level following 80 minutes of exposure to water. If you participate in outdoor recreational activities including swimming, you may want to choose a waterproof sunscreen.

What is the difference between sunscreen and sunblock?
Sunscreens can be classified into two major types: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens contain special ingredients that act as filters and reduce ultraviolet radiation penetration to the skin. These sunscreens often are colorless and maintain a thin visible film on the skin. These sunscreens usually contain UVB absorbing chemicals and more recently contain UVA absorbers as well.

Physical Sunscreens, most often referred to as sunblocks, are products containing ingredients such a titanium dioxide and zinc oxide which physically block ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Sunblocks provide broad protection against both UVB and UVA light. They can be cosmetically unacceptable to many people, because they are often messy, visible and do not easily wash off. However, some new zinc oxide products are available in brightly colored preparations which are popular with young people. The amount of sun protection these sunblocks provide, while potentially high, cannot be quantified in the same manner as sunscreen SPFs. Physical sunscreen is recommended for individuals who have unusual sensitivity to UVR. Most recently on the sun protection scene is sun-protective clothing designed to block UVA and UVB radiation. The effective SPF is greater that 30.

When should you use a sunscreen?
Sunscreens should be used daily if you are going to be in the sun for more than 20 minutes. Most people will receive this amount of sun exposure while performing routine activities. They can be applied under makeup. There are many cosmetic products available today that contain sunscreens for daily use because sun protection is the principal means of preventing premature aging and skin cancer. Sunscreen used on a regular basis actually allows some repair of damaged skin. Because the sun’s reflective powers are great – 17 percent on sand and 80 percent on snow – don’t reserve the use of these products for only sunny summer days. Even on a cloudy day 80 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays pass through the clouds. Skiers beware, ultraviolet radiation increases 4 percent for every 1,000-foot increase in altitude.How much sunscreen should you use and how often should you apply it? You should apply sunscreen to your dry skin 30 minutes BEFORE going outdoors. Pay particular attention to your face, ears, hands and arms. Apply sunscreen liberally using one ounce to completely cover your body. Be careful to cover exposed areas, a missed spot could mean a patchy, painful sunburn. Lips get sunburned too, so apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher. Sunscreens should be applied in the morning and reapplied after swimming or perspiring heavily. Remember, waterproof sunscreen begins losing effectiveness after 80 minutes in the water, so reapply sunscreen before this time, especially if you have towel-dried for maximum protection.

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