The Regimen

SPF: What's Your Magic Number?


It’s swimsuit season, which means it’s time to get serious about sunscreen. But there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the season’s most essential skin care, especially when it comes to SPF levels. Here are a few facts to help you prepare to bare.


Is Higher SPF Better?

The simple answer is NO.

The FDA has not found any evidence that products greater than SPF 50 offer any additional sun protection and has proposed regulation requiring sunscreen products with SPF values north of 50 to be labeled simply “SPF 50+.”

Dr. Fulton goes a step further to recommend against anything greater than SPF 30, which blocks 97% of UVB rays. Bumping up to SPF 50 blocks 98%. That additional 1% protection is gained at the expense of a higher dose of UV blocking chemicals, which can irritate sensitive skin and may have additional health implications. It just makes sense to minimize your exposure to these ingredients, especially when the additional sun protection they offer is so negligible.

An additional risk posed by higher SPF products is extended sun exposure. Many people think that 100 SPF they’ve slathered on will keep them safe all day. After all, 100 is more than three times 30, right? Except that’s not how it works. Those larger numbers are just marketing hype that do not translate into longer protection time. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends reapplying sunscreen every two hours no matter what level SPF you’re using, and especially after swimming or sweating. And no amount of SPF provides 100% protection.


15 is Fine For Day-to-Day

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation SPF 15 is sufficient for protection during regular day-to-day activities. You can wear a moisturizer formulated with SPF under your makeup or alone. Vivant’s non-comedogenic Day Treatment Lotion SPF 15 is a great choice if you are looking for a daily moisturizer with UVB and UVA protection. This lotion can also be mixed with your favorite loose mineral powder to create a makeup base.


SPF Isn’t the Only Factor to Consider

Whatever sunscreen you choose, make sure it’s labeled “broad-spectrum,” which provides protection from the harmful effects of UVA and UVB rays. SPF protects only against UVB. What’s the difference? UVA rays are the ones that cause premature aging and photo-damage to skin. These are the ones responsible for wrinkles and age spots and can pass through glass. This means even when driving in the car you need to protect your skin. UVB rays cause sunburn and stimulate melanin production, which shows up in the form of a tan or burn, freckles, age spots or hyperpigmentation. Both can lead to skin cancer.


Dr. Fulton Recommends: Two Ways To Boost Your Sunscreen’s Effectiveness

1. Apply sunscreen when skin is wet, after a shower, or when stepping out the pool. Moist skin will absorb sunscreen faster. 

2. When you’re planning a day at the beach or lake, apply sunscreen in the couple of days preceding. Your skin is like a reservoir. The repeated applications help build a resistance, increasing your skin’s ability to combat sun damage.


Bottom Line: Anything Over 30 is Overkill

Stick with 30 SPF. Anything north of that increases exposure to chemicals without really increasing protection. Apply sunscreen liberally and frequently. Try to avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. And make a wide-brimmed hat your go-to accessory this summer.

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