What's the Best Level of SPF?

Sun Safety Tips for a Cruise

Close-up of mother applying suntan lotion on daughter's nose. Credit: OJO_Images

"What level of SPF sunscreen should I buy for a cruise? I am going on a cruise next week and know that the UV rays are very strong in the Caribbean. What level of SPF in my sunscreen should I buy?"

Nothing ruins a vacation like a nasty sunburn, so it's a good idea to modify your sun safety routine for a Caribbean cruise. The UV index is much higher in the Caribbean because it's closer to the equator, and being on a cruise ship surrounded by water that reflects even more sunlight doesn't help.

 A waterproof sunscreen with SPF 30 and broad spectrum protection is your best bet.

If you neglect to take proper precautions to protect your skin, you'll probably find yourself with a severe sunburn, unable to enjoy your vacation. Getting the right SPF will prevent sunburns and skin cancer. Here's everything you need to know about finding the best level of SPF protection.

Why UV Index Matters

The UV index is a daily prediction of the intensity of UV radiation at noon, when the sun's rays are at their most intense. UV index is measured of a scale of 1 to 11+, with 1 signifying the lowest risk of UV exposure and 11+ signifying the highest risk of UV exposure.

There are several factors that determine the UV index, including the season, latitude and altitude. The UV index is highest during spring and summer. UV radiation is highest at the equator, so the closer you are to the equator, the more intense the radiation.

Air also becomes thinner at high elevations, which causes UV radiation to intensify with altitude.

The Factors of the Sun Protection Factor

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing an SPF 30 for maximum protection. You may be thinking to yourself, "But there are sunscreens with SPF 70. Isn't that maximum protection?" Not necessarily.

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It tells you how long you can stay in the sun without getting burned while wearing that sunscreen versus how long you'd be able to stay in the sun before getting burned without wearing that sunscreen. In other words, say it takes you 15 minutes to burn without wearing sunscreen. Applying an SPF 10 means it will take you 10 times longer to burn, or 2.5 hours.

A higher SPF doesn't mean better protection. An SPF 50 only provides 1 to 2 percent more protection than an SPF 30. A sunscreen with a high SPF is capable of protecting your skin for a longer amount of time, but think about the typical conditions during which we wear sunscreen: we're swimming, sweating and toweling off. No sunscreen - whether SPF 15 or 60 - can withstand that. Any sunscreen, regardless of SPF, must be reapplied often, especially after swimming, sweating and drying off.

Use a broad spectrum sunscreen that clearly indicates both UVA and UVB protection. SPF only measures UVB protection, which are the rays that burn.

UVA rays - the rays that age - are just as harmful.

Sun Safety Tips

Thoroughly apply sunscreen to your entire body and reapply it often. Lightweight, summery fabrics - like the ones worn during a Caribbean cruise - let a significant of UV radiation seep through. Sunscreen should be applied all over the body, even on parts that are covered with clothing. Wearing UPF clothing would be wise, but it's not always the most practical option. Wear a wide brimmed hat, cover exposed skin and try to stay in the shade as much as possible.

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