Researchers are now warning that sunscreens that boast an SPF of 100 or higher are not as effective as they seem.
This summer, many bottles of sunscreen will look different, as new requirements set out to make them less misleading. That means words like "water-proof" are banned, and all bottles are required to filter out both UVA and UVB rays.
Prior to the new Food and Drug Administration rules, some products only blocked UVB rays, which are the ones responsible for causing sunburn. But UVA rays have the greatest risk for causing skin cancer and wrinkles.
Though the bottles will improve, they will still be able to have SPF ratings of more than 100.
Experts have been skeptics of the efficacy of sunscreen rated 100+. That's because those high numbers often give the user a false sense of security. Users think, because it is so strong, that they don't have to reapply it as much and they can stay in the sun longer.
But that's not the case. Dermatologists say the only difference between SPF 50 and SPF 100 is a 1.5 percent difference in blocking sunburn-causing rays. SPF 50 can protect against 97 percent of rays, while SPF 100 can protect against 98.5 percent.
"The high SPF numbers are just a gimmick," Marianne Berwick, professor of epidemiology at the University of New Mexico, said.
"Most people really don't need more than an SPF 30 and they should reapply it every couple of hours."
The SPF number is an indicator of the amount of sun exposure needed for causing a sunburn on sunscreen-protected skin. That means, someone who wears a sunscreen of SPF 30 will take 30 times longer to burn wearing it than if they were wearing no protection.
In 2011, the FDA said that labeling a product with a specific SPF value higher than 50 would be misleading to the consumer. While they attempted to cap all SPF values at 50, they faced opposition from companies like Johnson & Johnson, who believe higher SPF products have benefits.
The department is now reviewing studies and comments from outside parties to decide if they will implement an SPF cap.
They are also reviewing the effectiveness of spray-on products.
"People like the sprays because they are quick to put on and cover a lot of area," Dr. Darrell Rigel, a dermatologist, said. "The downside is that you usually have to apply two coats."