Is Higher SPF Better? Plus, the Best Sunscreens SPF 30+

There’s a reason why no one is making an SPF 1,000 sunscreen.
BY Sarah Lim
| August, 2021
is higher SPF better

Is higher SPF better? Here’s a fact of life: your good ol’ sunscreen is more important than those fancy serums in your vanity packaged in luxurious bottles. After all, the sun is responsible for 90% of visible changes to the skin, which is a heck of a good reason to use sunscreen! Sun damage to the skin can result in premature wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and even increases the risk of skin cancer.

But what SPF should you be using when applying sunscreen? Is higher SPF better? Is SPF 30 enough? Let’s have a closer look to see what these numbers mean for your skin, as well as some products you can consider to prevent skin damage and premature aging from sun exposure.

The Science Behind SPF

SPF stands for sun protection factor. It is a number that reflects the amount of sun protection based on the product.

For example, let’s say you’re using SPF 15. That means it would take 15 times longer for you to burn when getting sun exposure than it would if you weren’t wearing that sunscreen.

Ideally, you want a broad-spectrum sunscreen because this means it protects against two types of rays: UVA and UVB rays. Both of these can cause severe damage to your skin. UVB is most responsible for sunburn (think “B” for burning) and skin cancer development, while UVA rays are more responsible for skin aging (think “A” for aging) but can also play a role in sunburn.

Another critical factor is that the SPF refers only to the amount of protection the product provides for UVB or the burning rays, not the aging ones. That doesn’t mean the product doesn’t protect against UVA rays. It’s just that there isn’t a measurement for that type of protection yet.

So Higher SPF Must Be Better, Right?

Higher SPF Must Be Better

Is higher SPF better? Technically, a higher SPF will give you more protection—but the difference can be marginal.

For example, SPF 30 sunscreen will block out about 97% of the sun’s UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks out 98%. What about those SPF 100 bottles you see at the store? They block about 99% of UVB rays. Over an SPF of 50, there’s really not much improvement for the amount of UVBs you’re filtering out.

Higher SPFs also tend to make people think they don’t need to reapply sunscreen as often or that they can stay outside for longer and get more sun exposure. However, this isn’t necessarily the case because numbers aren’t everything.

YOU and your skin are unique. Your skin will react differently to sun damage than someone else’s skin. There will also be variations in how much sunscreen you apply, where you are on the planet and how long you stay outside. Even sweating or swimming can reduce the efficacy of your sunscreen.

So while sunscreen is definitely beneficial, there are variations between the effectiveness of products and your unique constitution and application. But is SPF 30 enough? It depends on how much you’re applying and how often you reapply.

If you’re applying the product enough and using enough of it, SPF 30 may be enough. Yet be sure to follow up with your dermatologist for specific recommendations based on your family history of skin cancer, your skin type and your health.

The Best Sunscreens to Try

Remember that there are both chemical and physical sunscreens. And both can be beneficial when it comes to protecting skin from the sun. However, sensitive skin types tend to do better with mineral (aka physical) sunscreen, which constitutes the majority of sunscreens on this list.

Below are some of the best picks for you to try to keep your skin protected when you’re getting sun exposure!

30 SPF

Biossance Squalene + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen

Coming in two different sizes, this broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen from Biossance is lightweight and hydrating. It features plant-based squalene, non-nano zinc oxide, glycerin and water lily to soothe skin during sun exposure. 

Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer™ Physical Daily Defense

This sunscreen comes with zinc oxide, raspberry seed oil, aloe and marula oil, along with algae and grapefruit extracts. And this broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen from Drunk Elephant delivers antioxidants to the skin along with hydrating power. With no white residue or greasiness, this sunscreen is a formula for all skin types.

Farmacy Green Defense

This broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen features non-nano zinc oxide, moringa and beta carotene to help protect and nourish the skin. Non-greasy with an absolute minimal white cast, you can layer this sunscreen under makeup and over your moisturizer for lightweight protection. 

50 SPF

EltaMD UV Sheer Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+

Offering up to 80 minutes of water-resistant protection from the sun, this sunscreen also happens to be lightweight and hydrating. This sunscreen is formulated with hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and plant-based squalene and won’t clog pores or dry out the skin. However, it may not be ideal for sensitive skin types since it contains octocrylene, a chemical sunscreen agent, as well as zinc oxide.

Supergoop! CC Screen 100% Mineral

This tinted sunscreen contains non-nano zinc oxide, apple extract and red seaweed to protect your skin against free radicals and oxidative damage. This sunscreen contains humectants such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid, and it helps cover imperfections while hydrating and protecting skin.

MD Solar Sciences Mineral Crème SPF 50

Leaving no white-cast, this broad-spectrum sunscreen contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide for mineral protection from the sun. The formula includes antioxidants such as vitamins C and E along with green tea, as well as pomegranate and cranberry fruit extracts. You can even use this sunscreen as a makeup primer for the skin!

Even If You Wear Sunscreen…

To maximize your skin’s protection from the sun, it’s best to still abide by the following practices even if you wear sunscreen.

• Use the right SPF for your skin type

People who have more sensitive, pale skin may not be able to use SPF 30—they may need SPF 50+.

• Try to stay away from the sun during peak hours

Depending on where you live, this is generally anytime between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

• Reapply!

Unfortunately, you can’t just put on your sunscreen and forget about it—you should reapply sunscreen after swimming, sweating or every two hours when getting sun exposure.

• Cover-up

Keep your skin covered when out in the sun for maximum protection, and only put sunscreen on exposed areas.

What’s Your Favorite Sunscreen?

So is higher SPF better? The answer is technically YES, but for most people, an SPF of 30 will be enough. What’s your favorite sunscreen, or are you still looking for the perfect fit? Let us know in the comments below!

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