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Ask Dr. Steve: Is Sun Tanning Good For You? Clearing Up Myths About SPF

We asked Dr. Steve, our dermatologist in chief, to clear up some questions we get from the public about sun tanning and SPF. 

1. Is it true that the higher the SPF, the better?

Dr. Steve: Yes and no. The FDA has implied that with SPF of 30 or above, all sun protection products are the same. That’s not really true, because the SPF sun protection factor is really dependent on how much you use. You have to use the correct amount, and not everybody does. 

On average, most people apply about a half as much as they should, and by doing that you actually reduce the SPF’s effectiveness to a square root of the SPF. So if you only use half of what you were supposed to use for SPF 30, your true SPF that you’re getting is the square root of 30, which is like 5.5. 

And so that's why when SPFs are higher it does make a difference. If you’re using SPF purposefully, like in our Vital Morning Face Cream, there’s not much difference between SPF 30 versus SPF 50, but in real world situations, the higher SPF does make a difference. 

2. Is sun tanning a good sun protection strategy?

Dr. Steve: Sun tanning is terrible. But here’s the thing about sun exposure: it extends life. Researchers have looked at sun exposure in large cohorts of patients, and it reduces the risk of all “cause mortality” (death). The thinking is that sun exposure actually causes vasodilation of your blood vessels, and that dramatically lowers your blood pressure. And so these are cardiovascular benefits that help prevent cardiovascular disease — the number one killer. And vitamin D, which we get from the sun, is a good thing, in terms of anti-cancer and anti- inflammation properties. 

But if you're specifically getting a sun tan to get darker, to prevent you from getting additional sunburns, you're increasing the risk of skin cancer.  The reason is because you've done damage to your skin, and it’s produced more melanin as a defense to absorb some of the UV rays. We know that the number of sunburns you get as a kid, they have lasting effects, and we know that using tanning beds dramatically increases your risk of melanoma.

Sun exposure in moderation that doesn't lead to skin redness or burns is good for you, although it’s hard to know what the exact dose is because everyone’s skin is different than my skin. But don't use a base tan to protect yourself, that's not the right strategy.

The best strategy is an SPF moisturizer like our Vital Morning Face Cream.

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