Daily Limit: This SPF ‘goes to 11’

Most every time products are number rated, it brings thoughts of This is Spinal Tap and Nigel Tufnel’s amplifier knobs going to 11.

“It’s one louder, isn’t it?” actor Christopher Guest said playing the dimwitted lead guitarist. When asked why the 10 setting is not simply set to be louder, Tufnel, dumbfounded, pauses before giving his oblivious answer, “These go to 11.”

Nigel’s take is similar to that of some sunscreen producers, which might make claims their product is better because its SPF “goes to 111.” But those high numbers don’t always live up to their expectations, said Sonya Lunder, lead author of EWG’s 2017 Guide to Sunscreens.

“The vast majority of sunscreens available to Americans aren’t as good as they should be,” she said. “Sunscreens will not improve until the Food and Drug Administration sets stronger rules, reviews harmful chemicals and allows the use of new ingredients that offer stronger UVA protection.”

With summer here and plenty of sunny fishing days ahead, Lunder was asked what are the best practices anglers should be taking to protect themselves from the sun.


Many people think the higher the number, the better the protection. SPF (sun protection factor) numbers labeled on sunscreens is just a relative measure of how long a product will protect the user from ultraviolet (UV) B rays. Those are the ones that damage the skin’s outer layer and cause sunburn. The epidermis is where the most common form of skin cancers occur, and they are linked to an accumulation of exposure through the years.

Everyone’s skin is different, but let’s say with no protection your skin begins to burn after 15 minutes. A sunscreen of 30 SPF is supposed to give you 30 times the protection of none, or 450 minutes. Lunder said consumers thinking they’d be protected anywhere close to that long is ludicrous, because products break down or wear off at different intervals.

“Most all products, you need to put on every two hours,” she said.

Skincancer.org said that an SPF 15 product will “screen 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, while SPF 30 protects against 97 percent; and SPF 50, 98 percent.” Consumer Reports has tested sunscreens and found many do not give the advertised protection, and, no matter how high the SPF, some rays get through.

“High SPF is a marketing gimmick,” scientist David Andrews said in the EWG report. “SPF values over 50 mislead people into thinking they are completely protected from sunburn and long-term skin damage. But instead, they may encourage people to spend more time in the sun, exposing themselves to more, not less, ultraviolet rays.”

The other rays to be considered are UVA, which are more harmful because they can reach the dermal layer and damage collagen and elastic tissue. They are the cause of melanomas and other dangerous types of skin cancer, which are believed to be brought on by blistering sunburns.

The skin layer affected by UVA rays is also where the cells that darken skin are found. (It’s why UVA rays are used in tanning beds.) Tan skin may be thought to look healthy, but it is really DNA damaged – an attempt by the skin to prevent further injury, which can lead to cell mutation and cancer.

For sunscreens to be effective, they need to provide both UVB and UVA protection, which is sometimes labeled multi-spectrum or broad spectrum.

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