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What Sunscreen SPF Numbers Mean

Read This Before Picking Up Your Sunscreen For Memorial Day Weekend

True or false? An SPF of 100 protects you twice as long as SPF 50. The answer is a resounding false, with the difference between the two being so little it can be considered negligible.

This is the issue that watchdog organizations such as the Environmental Working Group are hoping to make public on the coattails of the US Food and Drug Administration's recent update of federal requirements for sunscreen. The push, which was put into place last year, bans terms such as "waterproof" from sunscreen bottles, as well as enforces that formulas block both UVA and UVB rays. Consumer groups are now arguing that high SPF numbers are just as misleading and dangerous as terms like waterproof.

"The high SPF numbers are just a gimmick," Marianne Berwick, professor of epidemiology at the University of New Mexico, told the Associated Press. "Most people don't really need more than an SPF 30, and they should reapply it every couple of hours." High SPF numbers, on the other hand, lead consumers to believe that they can spend more time in the sun without reapplying. Find out the truth about SPF numbers when you keep reading.

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The truth of the matter is the SPF numbers have nothing to do with a time frame, as many believe. It has more to do with the amount of sun exposure needed to cause sunburn on sunscreen-protected skin as opposed to unprotected skin. So an SPF of 50 will take you 50 times longer to burn than if you'd worn nothing at all. But talk to any fair-skinned person, and you'll quickly realize that burn times have more to do with skin type, as well as time of day, geography, and more.

In 2011, the FDA cited that "labeling a product with a specific SPF value higher than 50 would be misleading to the consumer." And while they've proposed capping SPF numbers at 50, they've gotten significant push back from sunscreen companies that claim that higher SPF products do, in fact, provide significant benefits. The FDA is still reviewing studies on SPF numbers, and no deadline has been set for the cap.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Stick to an SPF between 30 and 50; reapply every two hours and whenever you get out of the water; and supplement your sunscreen with a cute hat, a cover-up, or any other type of clothing. You'll stay sunburn-free all Summer, and your skin will thank you.

Image Source: Shutterstock
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