Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.

SPF inflation in the sunscreen aisle

Something strange is happening in the sunscreen aisle. Shelves that had been stocked with bottles claiming an SPF, or a sun protection factor, of 30 now trumpet SPFs of 55, 70, even "110+." This not-so-subtle escalation often comes with corollary pricing. Higher SPFs frequently cost more, but are they worth it?

Many dermatologists don't think so.

"Once you get to SPF 50, it's really getting silly," said Boston dermatologist, James Spencer. "SPF refers to multiples of how much longer it takes the skin to burn," but it isn't a linear progression.

An SPF of 30 doesn't offer twice as much protection as an SPF of 15, for example. An SPF 15 blocks 94% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 45 blocks 98%.

Spencer recommends sunscreens with an SPF of 30, as does the American Academy of Dermatology, "because we know you're not going to put enough on."

In fact, the academy found that most sunscreen users put on only half as much sunscreen as they should to get the product's claimed SPF protection. Making matters worse is the fact that sunscreen doesn't last all day and needs to be reapplied every few hours.

The Food and Drug Administration began requiring SPF ratings on sunscreens sold in the U.S. in 1978. But SPF ratings only measure one type of sun protection. Sunlight consists of about 95% UVA, the ultraviolet light that contributes to skin cancer and wrinkles, and 5% UVB, which is responsible for sunburn. SPF only applies to UVB. It does not indicate UVA protection.

While many sunscreens claim to be broad spectrum — protecting the skin from both UVB and UVA — there's no way of knowing how much UVA protection is included in a sunscreen. Yet. This October, the Food and Drug Administration "intends to publish rules to address sunscreen formulation, labeling and testing requirements for both ultraviolet B and ultraviolet A protection," according to FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess.

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • 'Natural' sunscreen: Better for you?
    'Natural' sunscreen: Better for you?

    When it comes to sunscreens, most consumers are concerned about SPF, brand and price. Typically, they do not turn the bottles around to check out what, exactly, they are slathering on their skin, maybe because they'd be confronted with words such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate,...

  • Home for the holidays, and grateful to be free
    Home for the holidays, and grateful to be free

    Imprisoned in Cuba for more than five years, Alan Gross marked his first moments of freedom Wednesday with food: A big bowl of popcorn, a corned beef sandwich and — because it's Hanukkah — latkes with sour cream and apple sauce.

  • USM names former Towson president Caret as new chancellor
    USM names former Towson president Caret as new chancellor

    The University System of Maryland has named Robert Caret, president at the University of Massachusetts System and a former president at Towson University, as its next chancellor, system officials confirmed on Wednesday.

  • Hogan names four Cabinet secretaries
    Hogan names four Cabinet secretaries

    Republican Gov.-elect Larry Hogan announced his first four Cabinet appointments Wednesday, choosing veterans from the O'Malley and Ehrlich administrations along with a Republican state delegate and a businesswoman from Laurel.

  • New U.S. plan aims to stop seafood fraud and black market
    New U.S. plan aims to stop seafood fraud and black market

    Addressing growing concerns over seafood fraud, a presidential task force called Tuesday for expanded enforcement and a new program giving consumers more information about the origins of the imported fish, crab and other seafood they eat.

  • Reports say North Korea ordered Sony hack; film's opening canceled
    Reports say North Korea ordered Sony hack; film's opening canceled

    Federal authorities have determined that hackers working on behalf of the North Korean government were behind the attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, according to multiple reports. The news comes hours after Sony canceled the release of the "The Interview," the film that led to the hacking.

Comments
Loading