Making Sense of Sunscreen Products
Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, PhD
Most people are understandably confused when it comes to choosing a sunscreen because of the baffling array of available choices. Common questions about sunscreens include
- How high should the SPF be?
- Should it block UVA or UVB?
- Does it matter whether it is a gel, cream, or spray?
- Should it be water-resistant or waterproof?
SPF stands for sun protection factor. The SPF numbers on a product can range from as low as 2 to as high as 60. These numbers refer to the product's ability to screen or block out the sun's burning rays. The SPF rating is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to produce sunburnon protected skin to the amount of time needed to cause a sunburn on unprotected skin. The higher the SPF, the greater the sun protection. However, it is a common mistake to assume that the duration of effectiveness of a sunscreen can be calculated simply by multiplying the SPF by the length of time it takes for him or her to suffer a burn without sunscreen, because the amount of sun exposure a person receives is dependent upon more than just the length of time spent in the sun. The amount of sun exposure depends upon a number of factors including the length of exposure, time of day, geographic location, and weather conditions.