The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of a sunscreen is a measure of how well it protects the skin from sunburn. You may think the higher it is, the better. But do high-SPF sunscreens really offer a better protection against skin damage and cancer? New research suggests that they cannot be relied on to protect against the deadliest form of skin cancer. Also, high-SPF products may even have greater risks to health…
Danger #1: Skin cancer risk
High-factor sunscreens cannot give complete protection against skin cancer and the damaging effects of UV light. Study in mice finds that SPF 50 cream only reduces DNA damage, increasing length of time before melanoma develops. At this time, there are no studies showing that high-SPF products were better at reducing skin damage and skin cancer risk.
Danger #2: A false sense of security
By preventing sunburn, sunscreens with very high SPFs can create a false sense of security. People often assume that they get much more protection from high SPF sunscreen. Apparently, studies show that people who use higher-SPF products wait too long to reapply and stay out too long, thinking their super-strength sunblock will protect them. They are more likely to use high SPF products improperly and as a result may expose themselves to more harmful ultraviolet radiation than people relying on products with lower SPF.
Danger #3: Misleading information on high-SPF sunscreens
The extra protection from high-factor sunscreens is actually negligible! Above SPF 50, the increase in UVB protection is minimal. Consumers need to be aware that SPF protection does not increase proportionally with an increased SPF number. While an SPF of 2 will absorb 50% of ultraviolet radiation, an SPF of 15 absorbs 93%, an SPF of 30 absorbs 97%, and an SPF of 50 absorbs 98%.
Danger #4: Poor UVA protection
The SPF number on sunscreens only reflects the product’s ability to screen UVB rays. Scientists know less about the dangers of UVA radiation, but UVA damage could be more dangerous than what we think! Most sunscreens offer far less protection against UVA than UVB, particularly the sunscreens with the highest SPF. The UVA penetrate deeper in the skin and are more closely linked to deeper skin damage. They are also much harder to block with sunscreen ingredients.
Danger #5: Higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals
High-SPF products may have greater risks to health. Some of the ingredients (such as retinal palmitate or oxybenzone) that are specifically used in high-SPF products have been linked to tissue damage and potential hormone disruption. Some may also trigger allergic skin reactions.
A few recommendations from the experts
- Choose sunscreens with lower concentrations of active ingredients. Check TheEnvironmental Working Group (EWG)’s guide to sunscreens to find the best and safest sunscreens on the market. The sunscreen should include some combination of UVA and UVB blocking ingredients. The EWG recommends purchasing sunscreens with SPFs higher than 15 but no greater than 50.
- Combine sunscreen with other strategies to protect your skin, including wearing hats and loose fitting clothing, and seeking shade when the sun is at its strongest (especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m). You shouldn’t just rely on sunscreen to protect your skin.
- Take care not to burn – sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged and, over time, this can lead to skin cancer. But don’t avoid sun exposure completely neither; the key is balance. Modest exposure to sunlight is good for you, helping the body produce the vitamin D it needs for good health and disease prevention! Since it’s difficult to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from food alone, sun is your best source. As a general rule, 20-30 minutes a day on your face and arms without sunscreen is adequate. Remember that even a mild sunscreen shuts down your body’s production of vitamin D…