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Demystifying the SPF 15 and SPF 30 Debate

sun protectionHave you been shelling out big bucks for SPF 30 (Sun Protection Factor) or higher believing like many of us that it offers twice the protection of SPF 15? Well, if your answer is yes, you are not alone. However, recent research is debunking this belief.


Studies have indicated that higher SPFs offer very little additional protection compared with SPF15. For instance SPF30 -60 offers only about 1% more protection than SPF 15, that is SPF 15 blocks 96.7% of harmful ultra-violet (UV) rays, while SPF30 is believed to block around 97.7% of   harmful rays. Some sites state that SPF30 offers up to 5% more protection that SPF15, but based on price this is no deal.


Many countries, including the United States of America, South Africa, China and some European Union member states agree that consumers need to be kept informed about the level of protection available according to SPF (Sun Protection Factor).


In the USA nothing concrete has been decided as to how to treat claims of total sun protection. In 1999, The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggested that claims that products offer “all-day protection”, and are “waterproof” should not be used when describing sun protection products. The FDA has also placed a cap on labelling sun protection products with a rating higher than SPF30.


In Europe the body responsible for labeling sun protection products is The European Cosmetic , Toiletry and Perfumery Association (Colipa). This committee believes that no company should claim that their product offers total sun protection; they have agreed that nothing more than SPF50 should be claimed.   


The major issue around higher SPF numbers according to industry experts is the confusion that may result as consumers may misunderstand the significance of the numbers. Dr. Mark Birch-Machin, lecturer at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne ( UK) reported that studies carried out by Cancer Research UK showed that ‘people did not apply sunscreen properly and use only 20-50% of what they need, hence reducing their SPF coverage.’ There is a real concern that higher SPF number will result in consumers using less of the product thereby increasing their risk of sun damage and skin cancer.


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