Aim for SPF that’s above 15 — and below 50.
The Food and Drug Administration has long acknowledged that any SPF rating above 50 offers negligible additional protection, yet people often assume that slapping on SPF 100 will allow them to safely bask in the sun for twice as long as if they wore 50. Because of this widespread confusion, the FDA has proposed rules to cap the allowable SPF that sunscreen companies can claim at 50 — but the enactment of those regulations has been stalled. So for now, there are still many products on the market with SPFs of 70, 80, or 100. But the issues with superhigh SPFs run deeper than just misleading consumers. SPF merely indicates the level of protection you get from UVB rays, the kind that cause sunburn and non-melanoma skin cancers, and says nothing about guarding you from melanoma- and wrinkle-causing UVA rays. According to the EWG, the FDA restrictions keep chemical sunscreens from being too concentrated; therefore, those with very high SPFs tend to skimp on ingredients that offer UVA protection.
Look for instead: The FDA recommends SPF 15 to 50. Any less will leave you prone to burning; any higher is unnecessary. Look for products labeled broad spectrum, which means they’ll protect against UVA and UVB. But always scan the Active Ingredients panel to make sure the UVA blocker or absorber is zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, octocrylene, or octisalate.
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