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Your No-Fry Guide To SPF

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    Photographed by Christelle De Castro.

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    Sunscreen recommendations change as frequently as the stock lists at Zara. Thanks to an ever-evolving trifecta of scientific inquiry, FDA regulations, and technology, the way we protect our skin from UV rays advances each season, which means you can’t always rely on last summer’s sunscreen to protect you.

    Just last year, new formulas and labeling for many sunscreens hit the shelves (sparked by the FDA’s update to sunscreen regulations in 2012). Sun protection factors (SPF) of more than 50 were repackaged to state 50+, since the actual protection offered by an SPF over 50 is considered negligible. Additionally, to help people clearly understand what an SPF can and can’t do, the term “broad spectrum” was introduced (to indicate that the product contains active ingredients to defend against long-wavelength UVA and short-wavelength UVB rays).

    The types of sunscreens that made it into the FDA’s final rule book have also evolved: Sunscreen wipes are widely on their way out. Because the convenient application didn’t make it into the FDA’s sunscreen guidelines, sunscreen towelettes require a time-consuming and expensive new drug application to be marketed. And, sprays may follow suit. The FDA is seeking more information about their dosing and efficacy, including how much of the product actually lands on the skin.

    Naturally, the constant shift of what’s in, what’s out, what’s most effective, and how formulas are labeled can be dizzying. The fact that most Americans apply up to 50% less sunscreen than recommended, rendering their SPF less effective than what may be labeled on the package, only emphasizes that we still have lots to learn when it comes to sun protection. All in all, it's pretty confusing.

    So, we spoke with Dr. Ali Hendi, skin-cancer specialist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center, about how to guard your body against UV rays. From the right sunscreen to use on your scalp to the best way to layer sun protection with your makeup, the full SPF scoop is straight ahead.

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