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30 may be the new 15

 | May 6, 2012

With sun protection, time weighs more than the numbers.

SUNSCREENS are one of those products that often boggle the mind. Is SPF 60 really better than SPF 30? And what does broad spectrum and those +++ signs mean?

Last year’s US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) ruling and new EU guidelines on sun protection have prompted users to take a better look at their sun protection. In future, sunscreens need to be labelled accurately on whether they provide broad spectrum protection (see below). An SPF rating below 15 will also carry a “low protection” sun warning for consumers, and you’ll not find anymore sunscreens with an SPF value higher than 50 as the FDA found scant evidence that this rating provides greater protection.

So how do you know which sunscreen is best for you?

SPF: The SPF, or sun protection factor, refers to the amount of time it will protect you from being burnt. So if it takes your skin to burn just 10 minutes into the sun, an SPF 15 sunscreen (15 x 10) allows you to stay out for 150 minutes before you turn red. But if it takes you 20 minutes to burn, the same sunscreen allows you to be out for 300 minutes.

UVA, UVB, broad spectrum and +++: SPF ratings reflect protection against UVB rays that cause burning and skin cancer. UVA rays cause skin cancer and wrinkling. A “broad spectrum” sunscreen offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays. There’s no numerical rating to UVA although in Asia this is indicated by the PA rating. A PA++ provides moderate UVA protection and PA+++ is considered good. .

Waterproof/water-resistant: Regardless of the claim or the SPF rating, you need to reapply sunscreen after two hours, or after swimming or when you sweat excessively.

Is 30 the new 15? In lab tests, an SPF 15 product offers 93% protection against the burning rays while an SPF 30 protects just 4% more, i.e. 97%. When choosing a sunscreen, best let your lifestyle determine the numbers. An SPF 15 rating is fine if you’re staying indoors (remember UV rays is reflected off window panes too) or running brief errands outdoors. If you’re doing outdoor activities or vacationing by the beach, then swap to an SPF 30 sunscreen.


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