There is so much controversy about SPF, how to use it, how often to reapply, and which type to use. Even in the professional skin care world this topic can be a bit confusing and it is hard with so many differing opinions and research out there to know if you are recommending the right products and giving the right advice. Good news, the FDA has recently made this very easy on us and not a minute too soon.

Starting early 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking new measures to help consumers navigate sunscreen labels and understand which products offer the best protection from the sun’s harmful rays. The FDA’s regulations will include strict testing guidelines for sunscreen manufacturers, as well as a new labelling system to accurately reflect the product’s quality of protection.

Sunscreen products that are not “broad spectrum” (offering protection from both UVA and UVB rays) or with an SPF value between 2 and 14 will now include a warning to consumers that spending time in the sun can increase your risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging. The label will also explain that the product has only been shown to prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging. Also, sunscreen manufacturers cannot make claims that their products are “waterproof,” or act as “sun blocks,” or claim that the sunscreen provides instant protection, or protection for more than two hours without reapplication. Water resistance claims on the product’s label must now tell how much time a consumer can use the product with the declared SPF protection while swimming or perspiration. The two times permitted on labels will be 40 minutes or 80 minutes. Finally, FDA is proposing a regulation that would require sunscreen products that have SPF values higher than 50 to be labelled as “SPF 50+.” FDA does not have adequate data demonstrating that products with SPF values higher than 50 provide additional protection, and the organization wants to avoid giving consumers a false sense of protection against the sun’s rays.

So what does it all mean? Let’s start with SPF (sun protection factor). This number is the amount of time you can be in the sun without getting red. So, if it takes your skin 5 minutes to turn red in the sun without sun block and you apply a 15 SPF then you will be able to stay in the sun 15 times longer than your unprotected time. This of course is a rough estimate to go off of and it differs by person and skin type so it is always recommended that it be reapplied every 40 minutes to be safe.

Okay, now let’s get to the good stuff. UVA (ultra violet A long wave) and UVB (ultra violet B short wave). There is also UVC (ultra violet C) but this wave is not long enough to reach the earth’s surface. UVA rays make up 95% of the radiation reaching the earth’s surface and although they are less intense than UVB rays they are 30-50 times more prevalent. UVA can cut through glass, clouds, and penetrates the skin more deeply than the UVB rays. Studies show that UVA rays reach the basal layer of the epidermis where skin cancer develops. UVA rays are the primary tanning ray and are 12 times stronger in the use of tanning beds. Youths that start tanning in beds at an early age are 75% more likely to develop some form of skin cancer.UVB rays are the primary reason for the “sun burn” and are the rays that turn our skin red. UVB rays play a large role in the development of skin cancer and photo aging. UVB rays cannot penetrate glass but are strongest between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm.  In addition, 80% of the rays bounce back from reflective surfaces like snow so the rays hit the skin twice.

Since we know that both UVA and UVB rays are harmful we have to protect against both. Instruct your client to choose a product that uses the words “broad spectrum,” or UBA/UVB protection. A product that protects from UVA will commonly have one of the following ingredients: stabilized  avobenzone, ecamsule (a.k.a. Mexoryl™), oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide.  When choosing a product, always remember that there are physical blocks which are immediately effective and chemical blocks which become effective 30 minutes post application.

Now that we understand the terminology, which products do we recommend to our clients, especially when they are trying to be more economical?

There are so many products on the market to choose from, some pricey, and some not. Here are a couple recommendations out of each category.

For the face:

Benev PTD (pure titanium dioxide)

A must have physical block. This little bottle makes protecting your skin from the sun so easy. Just add 2-3 drops to either water or your current moisturizer and wall-ah!  You are covered. Retail $45

Obagi Nu Derm SPF 32 with 18.5% Zinc Oxide.

Having worked with Obagi my entire career, I can verify that their products are always fantastic and deliver amazing results. Retail $44

La Roche – Posay60 Ultra Light sunscreen fluid

This is a multi award winning product. Although, it will most likely be renamed 50+ per the new law, this product deserves all of its recognition and is a bit less pricey for the wallet conscious consumer. Retail $30

Bioelemants SPF 50 Face Screen.

This is a moisturizing sunscreen that provides maximum SPF 50 UVA/UVB protection, It is great for dry skin and is packed full of antioxidants. Retail $50

Bull Frog

This product has been trusted for years and for good reason. At less than $10 per bottle, Bull Frog does the job well. It gives broad spectrum protection, and won’t clog pores.

Aveeno Continuous Protection SPF 30.

Recognized by the Skin Cancer Foundation; this is another under$10 product that deserves a go. This product is oil free and good for sensitive skin. Aveeno is a brand that has been trusted for years.

For the Body

I always refer back to a trusted product of many years, Coppertone. At you can find a sun block for any need, whether you are looking for sport, baby, kid, sensitive skin, adult, or oil free you can find it here. They also have blocks in several different formulas; from a gel to a spray and you can find them in any leading drug store for approximately $10. So go ahead…pick your poison.