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Dermatologists Debate Ultra-High SPF Sunscreens

By August 13, 2009

You've probably noticed a new type of sunscreen on your local drug store shelf lately -- you know, the ones with the SPF rating of 80, 90, or even 100. Are these new sunscreens worth the extra cost? Are they really better than the SPF 15 sunscreens from the old days (that is, 2008)? Unfortunately, even dermatologists aren't sure of the answer.

A recent article in the Dermatology Times highlighted the pros and cons of high SPF sunscreens:

  • The difference between a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 vs. 100 is very small, since the SPF 50 product already blocks 98% of UVB radiation from sunlight. The counter-argument is that this small difference builds up over time, especially in extreme conditions like skiing in the sun.
  • People typically don't apply the recommended amount of sunscreen, so the high SPF products compensate for that. However, some experts point out that the amount of compensation is insignificant, except for people with very fair skin.
  • Numerous studies show that the high levels of organic filters in high SPF products can upset users' hormonal balance.
  • People who use sunscreens with ultra-high SPFs believe they are immune to sun damage, but that is definitely not the case. Other researchers counter that there is no evidence that using a product with an SPF of 85 leads people to remain in the sun longer than they would when using a product with a lower SPF.

Regardless of the current SPF claims, manufacturers may have to scale them back if the FDA's proposed limit of SPF 50 becomes final next year. The regulatory agency proposed new guidelines in August 2007 that would also introduce a four-star rating system to denote levels of UVA protection. In the meantime, the best way to stay safe in the sun is to stay out of it: seek shade during midday, wear protective clothing, and use sunscreen only as a "backup."

September 14, 2009 at 10:44 am
(1) Joe Schuster says:

Is there any indication that the use of SPF’s -by using them and actually staying in the sun longer-is actually adding to the increase in skin cancer?

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