You probably know SPF has to do with sunscreen. And you probably know that lower numbers mean lower strength. But did you know that SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor? Or that higher numbers don’t always mean higher protection? If you’re concerned about protecting your skin and preventing skin cancer, SPF needs to be your BFF. And here’s what you need to know.
It’s totally common to assume that using a sunscreen with a higher SPF means you’re getting more protection, but – that’s wrong.
Here are 3 myths underlying this assumption:
#1 - Sunscreens with really high SPFs like SPF 75 or 100, don’t actually offer that much more protection than SPF 30 or 50. As noted above, you don’t get twice as much protection from SPF 100 as you do from SPF 50. It only inches up from 98% protection from UVB rays at SPF 50 (applied correctly) to 99% protection from SPF 100 (applied correctly). The worst thing about this is it misleads people into thinking they’re more protected which makes them more likely to use less sunscreen and re-apply less frequently. That’s a recipe for skin damage disaster.
#2 - Since SPF only really applies to UVB ray protection, high SPF sunscreens have an inordinate amount of active ingredients that filter UVB rays and not as much for UVA rays. That’s not the best broad spectrum protection. And it’s especially concerning because there are approximately 500 times more UVA (aging) rays in sunlight than UVB (burning) rays. With a high SPF sunscreen you might not get burned, but you’re definitely damaging your skin. Once again, the high SPF offers a false sense of full protection.
#3 - It’s not really a myth, but it’s important nonetheless: High SPF formulations require higher concentrations of the ingredients that filter UV rays – yet many of them have been linked to potential health or environmental risks. If the research actually showed significant skin damage prevention and skin cancer prevention from this higher exposure, it might be justified. But it doesn’t.
For over a decade, the FDA has argued that SPF higher than 50 is “inherently misleading.” Australian authorities cap SPF at 30, Japanese and European at SPF 50, and Canada allows a maximum of “SPF 50+.”