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What Level of SPF Should I Use?

What Level of SPF Should I Use?Now that the public is aware of the importance of using an SPF every day, the ongoing question is which level is appropriate. You may ask yourself, shouldn’t I use an SPF higher than 30? Is 40 or 50 better than 15? As we know, the SPF number stands for how long a person wearing sun protection can stay in the sun before they start to burn. This length of time is determined by multiplying the SPF by 10 minutes. (for example: an SPF 15 x 10 minutes = 150 minutes a person can be in the sun before they start to burn). According to this calculation, an SPF of 50, 50 or even 70 should mean that a person can stay even longer in the sun without burning or re-applying. Yet this calculation can cause misunderstanding and misuse. According to a study by the FDA, an SPF 15 can provide approximately 93% protection from the sun, while an SPF 60 provides approximately 98%.


No matter which level of sunscreen is used, the guidelines for use and application are the same. When using any level of SPF, always:


·    Reapply every two hours – perspiration and water can wear off even waterproof formulas and once sun protection is on the skin, the bonds begin to breakdown the instant it is exposed to sunlight.

·    Avoid the sun between 10am –2pm, when the rays are the strongest.  

·    Wear protective clothing, such as hats and cover-ups, especially for those with sensitive skin.


As a guideline, appropriate SPF levels are:


·    SPF 20 or lower – ideal for everyday use with minimal sun exposure, such as walking down the street or driving in a car to work. Although working indoors may seem harmless, UV lights from fluorescent lighting can still affect the skin, so an SPF is still necessary. An SPF moisturizer appropriate for a person’s skin type will provide adequate protection.

·    SPF 30 or higher – ideal when spending 2 or more hours outdoors, even on a cloudy day, since clouds don’t block UV rays. This level is important for those who work outdoors, such as gardeners or lifeguards, and those who play outdoor sports. Choose an actual sunscreen or sun block since a moisturizer with SPF is not enough protection and re-apply every two hours, avoid (or limit time during) peak hours and wear protective clothing.


The above numbers can vary for each person, especially due to factors such as an individual’s sensitivity to sun or advice from a dermatologist. Also, when working indoors, re-applying SPF is not as crucial as when being outdoors, and some people who use a 30 or 40 for every day use can continue as long as their skin doesn’t break out or become irritated.


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