Most people think the higher the SPF in their sunscreen, the better it will protect them, and the longer they can stay in the sun. This isn’t exactly true.
First of all, what SPF really means is that you can stay in the sun 30 times longer wearing an SPF of 30 than if you had nothing on your skin — and this is only if you apply it properly. And while most people understandably assume that an SPF of 15 protects only half as well as an SPF of 30, this isn’t exactly true either.
According to TIME, “SPF 15 filters about 93% of UV-B rays; SPF 30 filters about 97% of UV-B rays; and SPF 50 filters about 98% of UV-B rays. The difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is only a 1% filtering improvement.”
What can we take away from these percentages? Don’t go store to store trying to find that super fancy, super expensive SPF 100. It’s mostly a marketing trick. Stick with the SPF that is the most readily available and cost effective — usually SPF 30.
And while you’re combing the shelves for a good brand, make sure you look for a bottle that says “broad spectrum.” These are the only ones that protect you from UVA and UVB rays, both of which can cause skin cancer. Brands with zinc oxide listed in the ingredients are the best, because zinc oxide physically blocks the sun’s rays.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you have to apply enough sunscreen for it to be effective. No one wants to be walking around covered in white cream, but taking the time to put the right amount on (usually a shotglass full for big areas) and massaging it into your skin could mean the difference between a nice tan and a sizzling burn.
While many people are misinformed about the right SPF number to choose, they also may be choosing the wrong brand. According to a study by Consumer Reports, “almost a third” of the sunscreens they tested did not live up to their advertised SPF. When deciding what brand to use, read the ingredients, and go with a name you trust.
So go ahead, get yourself some Vitamin D — just do it in a smart, mindful way. This could really be the summer you avoid the “I’m so sunburned I can’t open my eyes” feeling for good!
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