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- Patient Comments: Sunscreen - Best Types
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- What is sun protection?
- How is sunburn best prevented?
- What is sunscreen?
- What is meant by SPF?
- Are all sunscreens equally effective against UV radiation?
- How do sunscreens work, and which sunscreen ingredients protect against both types of UV radiation?
- How should skin sunscreens be applied?
- Do water or perspiration wash off sunscreen?
- Can sunscreens cause a skin reaction?
- Should everyone use sunscreen protection?
- Can the labels on sunscreen products be trusted in the U.S.?
- Do all tanning products contain sunscreens?
- What kind of sunglasses offer protection against UV rays?
- Is sunscreen protection necessary in the winter?
- Are a good sunscreen and sunglasses enough?
Quick GuideSun-Damaged Skin Pictures Slideshow
What is meant by SPF?
SPF, an abbreviation for sun-protection factor, is a number such as 15, 30, or 50 that indicates the degree of sunburn protection provided by sunscreens. SPF is related to the total amount of sun exposure rather than simply the length of sun exposure. 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, season, and weather conditions.
A common mistake is applying too little sunscreen, which can drastically reduce the effective SPF of the product. About 1 ounce (5-6 teaspoons) of sunscreen is recommended to cover the entire body. Further, sunscreen must be reapplied every two hours when staying outdoors for a prolonged period of time. Sunscreen should also be applied at least 30 minutes before going outdoors.
People with sensitive skin who burn quickly and must spend a lot of time outdoors should always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. The U.S. FDA has also recommended that the maximum SPF value on sunscreen labels be "50+" because many scientists believe that there is insufficient evidence to show that products with SPF values higher than 50 provide greater protection for users than products with SPF values of 50.
A major limitation of the SPF value is that these numbers are determined from a test that measures protection against sunburn caused by ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. Therefore, SPF values only indicate a sunscreen's UVB protection and do not provide any information on the product's effectiveness in blocking the ultraviolet A (UVA) rays that contribute to the development of skin cancers. New rulings issued in 2011 require more accurate labeling of sunscreen products.