Sunscreen SPF: What Do These Numbers Really Mean


Summer is just around the corner and with improved weather, many are spending much more time outdoors. Everyone knows about the potential dangers of the sun, and the sting of sunburn is all too familiar. Significant sun exposure has been blamed for increased skin cancer rates, which is especially true for younger people who are between 20-and 30-years-old. With many people relying on the protection of sunscreen, it is important to know what the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) numbers on the labels really mean.

With many different sunscreens available, the most common question pertains to what kind of sunscreen should be used. Many customers believe that the higher the SPF, the better, but what type protects users the best? While many focus on purchasing sunscreen with higher SPF numbers, experts have proven that SPF 15 sunscreen provides all the sun protection human skin requires. While many sunscreens offer higher SPF protection, experts say that once sunscreen goes past SPF 15, there is not much extra protection offered. What is important, however, is that the sunscreen is water resistant and works across a broad spectrum.

All sunscreens protect against ultraviolet (UV) burning rays called UVB, but customers should purchase sunscreen that will also provide protection against UVA rays. These rays penetrate into your skin and damage the tissue, eventually causing wrinkles and aging your skin. It is also important to note that both UVA and UVB rays may cause skin cancer. While many broad spectrum sunscreens provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays, the best Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved ingredient is Parsol 1789.

While the vast majority of the population believes that skin cancer is a serious issue, many adults do not protect themselves from the sun. One of the most common reasons for adults not using sunscreen is forgetfulness. It is important to remember to apply sun protection, as skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the country. Making sure that sunscreen is water-resistant is also important. Many summertime activities include water, and when sunscreen is not water-resistant, it washes off quickly. Meanwhile, water magnifies the UV rays and increases the risk of negative effects from the sun.

While purchasing the right type of sunscreen is important, the biggest challenge is proper application of sunscreen. Sunscreen is necessary whenever a person plans to spend more than 20 minutes in the sun. Sunscreen should be applied 15 to 20 minutes before going into the sun and it should be applied everywhere. The most commonly forgotten places are the ears and the back of the neck. In order for sunscreen to properly work, it should be slathered on. According to experts, an ounce of sunscreen is necessary to cover the body. It is important to remember that sunscreen must be reapplied at least every two hours, and even more frequently if you are involved in water activities. It is also important to use lip balm with sunblock to protect your lips.

Although no sunscreen will offer total protection from harmful rays, it is important to use sunscreen even when it is cloudy. Bear in mind what SPF numbers really mean when choosing a sunscreen and remember to use it to protect against skin cancer, sunburn, and the negative effects of sun on the skin.

By Ivelina Kunina

ABC Detroit
NBC Washington

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