Myth Busting: Are High-SPF Sunscreens Actually Safer?

For Arizona residents and anyone who spends time outdoors, sunscreen is a necessity. However, after teaching thousands of students over the years at our Queen Creek swim school, we’ve noticed there are some misconceptions about sunscreen. For example, doctors and the media have led us to believe the higher the SPF, the better. But is that really true? We looked into the latest sunscreen research to find out.

What is SPF, and how does it protect your skin?

Sunscreens protect your skin from the sun by reflecting or absorbing the two types of ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB. UVB rays are the most common source of sunburns, while UVA rays reach deeper layers of your skin and lead to long-term damage. SPF (Sun Protection Factor) represents how much the sunscreen protects your skin against UVB rays. Some sunscreens (called “broad-spectrum sunscreens”) contain ingredients that shield UVA rays as well.

What do the numbers stand for?

SPF is a rating that indicates the amount of UVB rays a sunscreen deflects. For example, SPF 15 sunscreens protect your skin from 93% of the sun’s UVB radiation. SPF 30 provides 97% protection, and SPF 45 provides 98% protection. Keep in mind that a sunscreen’s effectiveness varies by skin type, exposure to sweat or water, and how long it has been since you applied it.

So, are high SPF sunscreens actually safer?

Yes, but not as much as it seems. SPF 30 and 45 block slightly more UVB rays than SPF 15 (97-98% vs. 93%), but by no means do they provide double or triple the protection. That’s why experts recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has at least SPF 15, waiting 20 minutes after you apply it before going into the sun, and reapplying every 1-2 hours.

If you have any other questions about sun safety or lessons at our Queen Creek swim school, call EVO at 480-539-2660.

Sunscreen: The Burning Facts
Best Sunscreen: Understand Sunscreen Options
FDA Sheds Light on Sunscreen
Sunscreens Explained