Sun Protection Factor - SPF Ratings Information

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. This is a rating given by the Food and Drug Administration to over the counter sunscreen products. It measures the sunscreen's performance in absorbing or blocking UVB radiation. The way it works is the higher the SPF ratings number the greater the protection level. Specifically, an SPF sunscreen rating of 30 means if you use the sunscreen properly you can stay in the sun 30 times as long as without the sunscreen and get the same level of sunburn.

Unfortunately, most people don't put on the right thickness of sunscreen and they don't reapply it frequently enough. According to Madhukar Pathak, a Dermatology Research Professor at Harvard Medical School, most people only apply one-quarter to one-half as much sunscreen as they should (about one ounce for full coverage). So the actual protection is only one-quarter to one-half the SPF rating. As a result, many people who use sunscreen actually end up with sunburn. For example, a study by Wright, Wright and Wagner published in the American Academy of Dermatology in 2001 showed that 73% of those who applied sunscreen became sunburned!

Another important issue about Sun Protection Factor or SPF ratings is that they do not address a product's UVA protection level - only UVB protection. In fact, many sunscreens do not protect against UVA which scientists now believe may be important to the creation of skin cancer. Because of this and other issues, the FDA has decided to move to a better, more comprehensive sunscreen rating program. The FDA had planned to publish a new rating standard with effective implementation by December 31, 2002. However, various delays have meant the new standard has still not been finalized. In the meantime, class action lawsuits have been filed in California for misleading labeling by certain major sunscreen manufacturers.

Here is a link to the consumer information paper published by the FDA: "Sunscreens" July-August 2000. A more recent paper was published on Sunscreens, Tanning Products and Sun Safety April, 2003.

Coolibar offers specialized brands of sunscreen with SPF 30 to SPF 50 ratings that provide excellent UVA and UVB protection, typically through the action of physical UV blockers. These products have consistently ranked very highly in our annual, independent survey of U.S. dermatologists. They have also been reviewed and recommended by Coolibar's Medical Advisory Board. We also offer specialty sunscreens such as zinc oxide sunscreen, gallon sunscreen and SPF 50 sunscreen. We believe these products offer the best sunscreen protection available in America today.