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New study finds that, yes, high SPF sunscreen is better at protecting your skin

The research—conducted on the sunny slopes of Vail—looked at the effectiveness of SPF 100+ sunscreen versus one with SPF 50+.

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Heading out to the slopes, or even just your snowy backyard for some sledding, this season? You may want to consider putting on some sunscreen before you do—and ideally one with a higher SPF.

According to research just published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, SPF 100+ has been shown to be significantly more effective at protecting you from a sunburn (yes, this is still a concern on a cold but sunny winter day!) than SPF 50+.

As part of the study—conducted by scientists at Neutrogena® and Darrell S. Rigel, M.D., Clinical Professor of Dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center—nearly 200 women and men of varying skin types were given two sunscreen products with different SPF values (50+ and 100+) and asked to apply each product to a different side of their face during a sunny day of skiing and snowboarding in Vail, Colorado.

After about six hours of sun exposure, more than half of the participants had more sunburn on the side of their face to which they’d applied an SPF 50+ sunscreen, compared to only 5% who had more sunburn on the SPF 100+ side.

The results? After about six hours of sun exposure, more than half of the participants had more sunburn on the side of their face to which they’d applied an SPF 50+ sunscreen, compared to only 5% who had more sunburn on the SPF 100+ side.

And it wasn’t because subjects used the sunscreens differently: The researchers note that the amount worn and the frequency of reapplication were similar between the two products. These results are consistent with the fact that SPF 50 sunscreens allow twice as many damaging UV rays to reach the skin compared with SPF 100 sunscreens.

This milestone study is the largest of its kind to directly compare the benefits of high SPF sunscreens in real-world UV exposure, and the study’s authors say the findings are likely as relevant to other outdoor environments—like that beach getaway you’re planning to get away from the snow.

Top tips for sun safety

Check out this handy reference guide for keeping your skin protected in any environment.

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