This is Why SPF 100 Sunscreen Isn’t Worth It (and What to Buy Instead)

Wear. Sunscreen.

This sound advice is the one thing Australian director Baz Luhrmann may be better known for than his Leonardo DiCaprio-inclusive interpretation of of “Romeo and Juliet” …nevermind the fact it was actually penned by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich.

Alas, fame may be a fickle beast — but ultraviolet radiation isn’t.

And now that summer is finally here, many of us are beginning to bare our winter-pale skin to the sun’s powerful rays.

We won’t even acknowledge the possibility that you’re not wearing sunscreen; who doesn’t take a classic ‘90s earworm to heart?

But still, your wise dedication to sun protection will require some decision-making, and the sunscreen aisle will be stocked full of SPFs ranging from 15 to 100, with price tags ranging right along with them.

Is it worth it to buy upgraded, super-high-SPF sunscreen? Does it actually offer that much more protection?

Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Is SPF 100 Worth It? What Does SPF Even Mean?

The quick answer to the SPF-100 question is “no.”

What’s more, no sunscreen on the market offers total skin protection. But to see why, let’s dig into what that sunscreen label actually means.

SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” which “refers to the ability of a sunscreen to block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays,” according to WebMD. These rays — the UVBs — are the ones that cause sunburns, but their UVA cousins can also hurt you. In fact, although both types contribute to the risk of skin cancer, UVA rays are “more closely linked to deeper skin damage.”

Fortunately, you can buy sunscreen that protects you from both kinds of radiation; it’ll say “broad spectrum” or “full spectrum” on the label.

But let’s go back to SPF itself for a moment, which refers only to UVB protection, even if your sunscreen offers both kinds. What does that number mean in the first place?

Although it seems as if SPF should align neatly with protection factor — (an SPF 30 sunscreen should offer double the protection than one labeled SPF 15, right?) — that’s apparently not the way it works. At all.

In fact, SPF 45 blocks only 1% more UV rays than SPF 30, which in turn only offers 3% more protection than bottom-of-the-barrel SPF 15. In other words, spending the extra cash on high-SPF sunscreen is a total waste of money.

Repeat: High-SPF sunscreen is not worth it.

Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

So, Which Sunscreen Should You Buy to Get the Best Deal?

Even one glance at the sunscreen end-caps popping up at Walmart and Target will tell you there’s more to this decision than SPF.

From facial lotions promising to ward off breakouts to sporty, spray-on versions that allegedly render their wearers sand-resistant beach ninjas, there are all sorts of sun protection options out there — and they come at every price point on the spectrum. (No pun intended.)

As with any other personal care product decision, your mileage may vary; maybe you decide the clear-face lotion is worth the upgrade.

But the one attribute you definitely want to look for — and pay extra for, if it comes to it — is full-spectrum protection. Water resistance is a pretty good feature, too. Whether you’re planning to swim or not, that hot sun can make you sweat, as well as burn.

As far as SPF, a fairly low figure will do it. Florida dermatologist James M. Spencer, M.D., recommends SPF 30 to his patients… with the caveat that they apply early (half an hour before you hit the beach), liberally and often.

“You just can’t put it on in the morning and forget about it,” he told WebMD. “I don’t care if it’s SPF 800,” he says: “after a few hours, it’s gone.”

That’s especially true if you’re getting wet, active, or both while you’re enjoying your day in the sunshine. Even water-resistant sunscreens should be re-applied every two hours.

If your skin and summer schedule are anything like mine, you’re probably going to be purchasing several bottles. Good thing we’ve already covered some easy sunscreen savings tips to keep both your skin and savings account safe from the sun.

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a Russian-Scottish Floridian whose skin is essentially fluorescent. She buys a lot of sunscreen.