Sunscreen Ratings – What Do they Really Mean? For anyone who’s looked at sunscreen ratings and thought that the SPF they chose would keep them burn free, only to discover pink shoulders at the end of the day, new labels are supposed to be extremely helpful. However, many experts feel that SPF ratings can be misleading and even dangerous. A consumer watchdog group has been keeping a close eye on this topic. Sunblock labels that boast an SPF of higher than 50 may not be as beneficial as consumers think. The Environmental Working Group has surveyed 1,400 different sunscreen products and has discovered that while most of the products out there meet the new requirements that the FDA put in place late last year, there are still some products that aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.
Terms such as waterproof have been banned, and sunscreens are supposed to block both UVA and UVB rays. B rays are the burn rays, but A rays are the ones that cause wrinkle and skin cancer problems. Most products do offer protection that is broader, but one in seven products that was looked over by the group claimed to be rated SPF 50 or higher, but experts feel that these products should be avoided. Partly because, numbers of SPF that are as high as 100 and 150 make users think that they are protected far longer than they actually are. In fact, it’s not uncommon for consumers to think that an SPF ranking of 100 or higher is two times more effective than 50, but according to dermatologists, the difference might not be so much.
An SPF 50 will likely block against about 97 percent of rays that cause sunburn, but SPF 100 might block 1.5 percent more. Marianne Berwick, University of New Mexico professor of epidemiology says, “The high SPF numbers are just a gimmick. Most people really don’t need more than an SPF 30 and they should reapply it every couple of hours.” According to Berwick, sunscreen is best when used with clothing, shade and hats for optimal protection. Other dermatologists suggest that for those that don’t use enough of it, a higher SPF can actually be quite helpful. The idea is; for those who aren’t so zealous about reapplying it; a higher SPF can help to reduce the chances of experiencing a burn and damaging rays. The idea of SPF is that it would take that many times more to become sunburned than if the skin were unprotected.
So, with SPF 30, it would take 30 times longer in the sun to burn. It does not mean that a person can spend 30 hours in the sun without burning. Additionally, exposure levels often depend on the time of the day, the type of complexion and where the sun is being enjoyed. In 2011, the FDA said, “labeling a product with a specific SPF value higher than 50 would be misleading to the consumer.” It’s at this time that the FDA recommended putting a cap at SPF 50 since there isn’t sufficient evidence to show that the sun block products that have SPF values that are higher than 50 actually offer users more protection.
However, companies have pushed back, including Johnson & Johnson. The argument is that products with higher SPF offer noticeable benefits. This has led the FDA to continue reviewing comments and studies that outside parties have submitted, and they have not put any type of deadline on finalizing the cap on SPF. Many feel that following their dermatologist’s advice, and using at least SPF 30, protective clothing and shade during the hottest parts of the day is the best option. It’s also essential to re-apply sun block every couple of hours, even when not swimming if sun exposure is sustained.