Is SPF 50 Sunscreen Better for You?

The necessity of everyday sun protection cannot be overstated. Learn more about sunscreen.

 Is SPF 50 Sunscreen Better for You?

Contrary to what most people think, higher sun protection factors aren't automatically better than the SPF numbers that dermatologists usually recommend.

The sky is clear, and the sun rays are peeking through your windows. The day invites you to go outside and enjoy things under the sun. But wait--do not forget to wear sunscreen! Yup, we're all familiar with this sweet advice from our families, friends, and social media influencers. But does wearing sunscreen really matter? What does it do to our skin? What if you don't wear sunscreen at all? What are the guidelines for using sunscreen? Well, read on to learn more about sunscreens and how to protect your skin while enjoying life under the sun.

Why is wearing sunscreen necessary?

Sunscreen is technically defined as a substance that helps protect the skin from the sun's harmful rays. Humans cannot see ultraviolet light because it has shorter wavelengths than the light visible to the human eye. But UV rays are always present, and they are the cause of sun damage and skin cancer. Sunscreens reflect, absorb, and scatter both UV A and B radiation to offer protection against both types of radiation.

  • UVB rays - cause sunburn and play a key role in developing skin cancer. A sunscreen's sun protection factor (SPF) number refers mainly to the amount of UVB protection it provides.

  • UVA rays - cause skin damage that leads to tanning, skin ageing, and wrinkles. The shortest wavelengths of UVA rays also contribute to sunburn. The words "broad spectrum" on a product's label indicate the presence of ingredients that can protect you from both UVA and UVB rays.

Do SPF numbers matter?

The SPF number tells you how long the sun's UV radiation would take to redden your skin when applying the product exactly as directed versus the amount of time without any sunscreen. So ideally, with SPF 30, it would take 30 times longer to burn than if you weren't wearing sunscreen, allowing about 3 per cent of UVB rays to hit your skin. An SPF of 50, on the other hand, allows approximately 2 per cent of those rays through. That may seem like a small difference until you realize that the SPF 30 allows 50 per cent more UV radiation onto your skin.

Under ideal conditions (like in a laboratory), a sunscreen with higher SPF protection and broad-spectrum coverage offers more protection against sunburn, UVA damage and DNA damage than its counterparts with lower SPF values. But we do not live in the lab. Outside the laboratory, in real life, products with relatively higher SPFs tend to give users a false sense of security. People who use them become confident of staying out and prolonging their sun exposure and even skipping reapplying and believe they don't need to seek shade, wear a hat or cover up with clothing. This results in getting a lot more UV damage, defeating the purpose.

Is a higher SPF number better?

 

Most people buy sunscreen based on its sun protection factor, or SPF, and often choose one with a high SPF because they think it will protect them the best from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays, or UVs. But that isn't always the case.

Giving users a false sense of security, sunscreen products with SPF values above 50+ overpromise protection and overexpose consumers to UVA radiation, raising their risk of cancer. People trust these high SPF products too much without realizing that:

  • Consumers misuse high SPF products due to the false sense of security, making them confident of staying in the sun longer and overexposing themselves to both UVA and UVB rays.

  • Higher SPF sunscreens provide minimal added protection

  • High SPF sunscreens contain higher concentrations of chemical sunscreen ingredients

  • The skin may absorb chemical (organic) sunscreen ingredients, which, when struck by UV radiation, can become aggressive free radicals and increase the risk of damage

  • No sunscreen protects the skin from UVA rays completely

Which sunscreen suits me?

SPF 50 may not be sufficient for people with a history or higher risk of skin cancer, genetic conditions such as albinism, or certain immune disorders. SPF 50 may not also be enough when hiking or skiing at high altitudes or vacationing near the equator. Water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher works best for any extended outdoor activity. However, regardless of the SPF, the general and safe rule is to apply one ounce 30 minutes before going outside and reapply it every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.

  • Water-resistant sunscreen. It works best when engaging in water activities but may not be appropriate if you're playing a sport that will cause the SPF to drip into your eyes. It's also important to note that no sunscreen is truly waterproof.

  • Aerosol spray sunscreen. It is popular and is a best friend of parents with wiggling and running children. However, parents are advised to choose a cream-based sunscreen first instead of a spray that may release harmful chemicals your child can breathe in.

  • Broad-spectrum sunscreen. Probably the best choice as this sunscreen blocks against both UVA and UVB rays.

  • All-natural sunscreen. Sunscreens labelled as "natural" are typically mineral-based, which the consumers found to be not working as well as sunscreens with chemicals for active ingredients. Meanwhile, sunscreen with a base of olive oil or coconut oil would help provide the most protection. Both olive oil and coconut oil have natural SPF protection of around SPF 8, so sunscreens that use them as a base have a superb natural SPF foundation.

The takeaway

Using sunscreen is a crucial way to reduce adverse side effects from harmful UVA and UVB radiation from the sun. Adults of any age, skin type and colour, including individuals with darker skin who are mistakenly believed not to need sunscreen, should use at least an SPF of 30 during all outdoor activities. Children over six months old should wear a cream-based sunscreen of at least SPF 30. Additionally, you shouldn't rely on sunscreen alone as a strategy to avoid the sun's radiation. No single method of sun defence can entirely protect you. Sunscreen offers extra protection and is just one vital part of a strategy that should also include seeking shade and covering up with protective clothing, including wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses.

At Welzo, we offer several options for sun protection. See our Garnier SPF 30 sprayRiemann SPF 30 spray, and SPF 20 lotion, and our Nivea after-sun moisturiser.

To see our larger range of skin-care products, click here.  

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