STYLE & BEAUTY
05/22/2012 09:00 am ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

What SPF Should You Be Wearing? A Top Dermatologist Answers Our (Burning) Sunscreen Questions

A few years ago the levels on sunscreen labels started to creep into alarmingly and never-before-seen territory, some even maxing out at around SPF100+. (The New Yorker summed it up pretty neatly, deftly pointing out the ridiculous of the small and large ends of the spectrum.) While the numbers were spinning wildly out of control, most of us were still confused about what SPF we should be wearing. Higher is better, right? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a very legit source on the subject, the required level is SPF30. So does that make these crazy-high sunscreens around 3x more effective? Not necessarily. Luckily, those exorbitant SPF levels are not long for this world; regulators are cracking down. Here to explain what level SPF we should actually be wearing is New York dermatologist Anne Chapas. Keep scrolling for seven sunblocks to keep you protected this summer.

For regular, everyday use, what level sunscreen should we be wearing?
"The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone apply a sunscreen with an SPF30 every day, and an SPF50 before participating in outdoor activities."

SPF30 seems low compared to all the other SPF levels on the market. Why is this number so low?
"The number means that it would take 30 times longer to burn than not wearing any sunscreen. That means if it would take a minute to burn without sunscreen, it would take 30 minutes to burn after applying the recommended amount of SPF30.  This is usually adequate for low levels of sun exposure."

There are so many sunscreens that are topping SPF100. Does a super-high SPF become ineffective at a certain number?
"The FDA has recently recommended changing the sunscreen labeling to avoid this confusion. Soon the highest level available will be 50+."

Should different skin tones wear different levels of SPF?
"Everyone should wear sunscreen since the sun causes skin cancer and aging in all skin types. The Academy does not recommend different levels depending on skin tone."

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