I am often asked “what SPF (sun protection factor) sunscreen should I be wearing?”
The simple answer is that, after getting Americans to wear sunscreen over the last thirty or more years, we are now relying too much on its sun protection abilities. Sunscreen is truly amazing if you think about the fact that you can apply a cream on your skin and go in the sun and not burn when you normally would have burned without it. We have, unfortunately, taken this too far, relying on it entirely to protect us from the sun. The result is disappointed vacationers with bad sunburns wondering if their day on the beach was ruined by bad sunscreen, when in fact the sunscreen did only what it could do.
My family was recently on a trip where we all wore rash guard sun shirts while snorkeling to protect us from the harsh sun. None of us burned, while the family next to us in the boat that only wore swimsuits and sunscreen all burned in the harsh sun. What happened here? Simply put, the other family thought they would be all right with only sunscreen while out in the tropical sun all morning. They were wrong. Sunscreen, while truly useful, cannot be expected to protect in extreme conditions. In these situations (fishing, golfing, gardening, skiing, swimming etc) we need additional physical protection to keep us from burning (see blog). Reaching for a higher SPF will not do the trick. SPF numbers above thirty generally give no additional sun protection. If your outdoor activity will have a risk for a sunburn you should consider a hat and shirt and other physical sun protections clothing for really significant protection. See Australia's "Slip, Slop Slap, Seek and Slide" PSA below:
Arthur Ide MD