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SPF 50. SPF 70. Even SPF 100! Whatever happened to good ol’ SPF 30? Clinique has new SPF 50 Face Cream. Dermaglow offers 70 SPF Cream. And Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch Sunblock SPF 100 was introduced to the US market this season. What’s up with the new crop of through-the-roof-SPF sunscreens?
Is SPF creep about advanced protection… or advanced hype? More importantly, do you need to change your formula? ElleCanada.com set out to get the new scoop on today’s mega SPFs.
WHAT IS SPF?
First, let’s run through a refresher course in Sun Protection 101. SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” a measure of the extra time you can stay in the sun without getting burned when you’re wearing a sunscreen or sun block, versus not. So, if you’d typically burn after 10 minutes in bright sun, an SPF 15 product will give you 150 more minutes or about two-and-a-half hours (10 minutes multiplied by 15) of fun in the sun – minus a burn. Conventional wisdom – and the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation – suggests a minimum SPF 15 product for regular everyday use.
Learn how to get a great tan this season, minus the sun.
So why might someone need an SPF 70 product? “People with higher sun sensitivity due to their genetic skin type, medications or due to dermatological procedures would benefit from higher SPF protection,” says Dr. Charles Lynde, a dermatologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto. Fair-skinned lasses, retinol cream or Accutane users, cosmetic surgery divas: this means you.
…OR EMPTY NUMBERS?
But naturopath Dr. Tony Kovacs, a California-based VP of Soleo Organics, a natural skincare company, calls über-high SPFs “marketing hype.”
“When SPF levels are portrayed on a graph, the graph tends to plateau around SPF 32 to 35. Any number above that is negligible with regard to protection. For example, an SPF 100 may give an extra 1% protection (at most) but the reality of being able to stay out in the sun longer is a complete hoax,” he says.
“If an SPF 30 will offer protection of up to four hours, then it stands to reason that an SPF 60 would offer eight hours and therefore SPF 100 would be 10 hours. But this is definitely not the case, as no sunscreen can offer protection for that period of time,” says Dr. Kovacs.
CLINICAL SETTINGS VERSUS REAL LIFE
But Dr. Lynde argues super-high SPF products carry the added protection of compensating for a shortfall between laboratory and real-life SPF applications.
“In real life, an SPF 30 product behaves considerably lower [than in a lab setting], and thus higher SPFs may achieve better realistic protection,” he says.
A third doctor we consulted, Dr. Jeffrey Benabio, a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Diego agreed with both Dr. Lynde and Dr. Kovacs to a certain extent.
Dr. Benabio agrees with Dr. Lynde that unless you mimic lab testing by slathering on “about one-sixth of a bottle of sunscreen,” every time, you’re not getting the SPF you see on the label. “When less is used, the actual SPF is much lower,” says Dr. Benabio.
But, adds Dr. Benabio, “The higher the original SPF, the more the number drops. So, for example, most people who apply an SPF 70 sunscreen probably get a true SPF of about 10. Most people who apply a sunscreen of SPF 30 probably get a true SPF of about 8 because the number drops off much less.”
“Therefore there really isn’t much difference between an SPF 30 and SPF 70 sunscreen,” says Dr. Benabio.
We tried the following sunscreens….
• Clinique SPF 50 Face Cream: Nice consistency, sensitive-skin formula, solar-activated antioxidants
• Dermaglow 70 SPF Cream: Super-smooth milky consistency, pleasant scent, makeup-friendly
• Soleo Organics All Natural Sunscreen SPF 30 : Heavier physical barrier zinc oxide suits avid outdoorswomen. Biodegradable, coral-reef-friendly formula.
• Lavera Naturkosmetik Anti-Ageing Sun Milk SPF 20: 100% mineral formula offers immediate protection (most other brands must be applied 20-30 minutes before sun exposure). Yummy scent. Organic plant extracts.