What Does SPF Even Mean? Picking The Right Sun Protection

In the warmer summer months, outdoor activities and beach trips abound. When the sun comes out and the temperature rises into the eighties (and even nineties), it’s time to lather on the high SPF sunscreen and enjoy the weather! However, what does SPF mean? What is a good level of SPF and how do you know how to pick the best sunscreen for your skin? In this post, we’ll take a look at the answers to all of these questions; let’s gear up for summer!

What Does SPF Mean?

If you’re wondering “what does SPF mean,” you’re not alone. This is a pretty convoluted topic that most people don’t quite understand. The acronym SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” which, in and of itself, doesn’t tell us very much. There’s a common myth that will tell you the SPF number is how long (in minutes) you can stay in the sun without getting burned. This is not what SPF means. SPF value determines the degree to which you are protected from UV rays in direct sun.

Still confused? Let’s dive a little deeper.

What Determines A Product’s SPF?

SPF is a value assigned to sunblock products to help consumers gauge how strong the protection is in a certain bottle. How exactly this number is calculated can be a bit confusing, but here’s what’s important to know:

The number you see on the bottle is the measure of how much solar energy (specifically UVB rays) is necessary to cause a sunburn on protected skin (aka, skin with sunscreen on it). While a higher SPF does indicate higher protection, it doesn’t necessarily equate to being able to stay out in the sun longer.

How long you can stay out in the sun after applying sunscreen is going to vary not just depending on your sunscreen’s SPF value, but also the time of day you’re out, your skin tone, whether or not you have access to shade, etc. That’s why we advise sticking with the rule of thumb of reapplying every 2 hours.

The Most Common Levels of SPF

As you’ve probably noticed, SPF typically comes in a range from SPF 15 to SPF 50 (though the value can be lower or higher). While SPF 30 certainly protects better than SPF 15, it doesn’t mean it offers double protection because the number is doubled. Let’s take a look at what kind of protection you can expect from the standard levels of SPF.

SPF 15

UVB Protection: 93.3%

This type of sunscreen blocks about 93% of UVB rays from reaching your skin, and that rate significantly decreases the longer you have the sunblock on. SPF 15 is a good choice for areas of your body that aren’t exposed to UV rays as much or for areas to which you will reapply product frequently (like lip protectants).

SPF 30

UVB Protection: 96.7%

SPF 30 blocks approximately 96% of UVB rays and may last a bit longer in direct sun than SPF 15. It’s still incredibly important to reapply your sunblock at the intervals that the bottle recommends.

SPF 45

UVB Protection: 97%

Blocking about 97% of UVB rays, SPF 45 is, yet again, just a tiny bit stronger than the lower SPF values. The difference in these products is pretty marginal, and reapplication is still required.

SPF 50

UVB Protection: 98%

At this point, sunscreens don’t really get much stronger. Most sunscreen maxes out at 98% protection from UVB rays. SPF values beyond 50 are mainly stronger concentrations that are meant to protect your skin better in high-intensity sun一 peak, noon to two o’clock sun with no cloud cover. However, these higher SPF values do not incur any additional UV protection benefit.

What Is A Good Level of SPF?

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, a minimum of SPF 30 is recommended as a part of your daily skincare routine. This will provide broad protection for your face, but you should still take other precautions like wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. And remember一 don’t be fooled into thinking that a higher SPF value doesn’t need to be reapplied一 it still does.

What Kind of Sunscreen Is Best For Me?

If you’re wondering how to pick the best sunscreen for your skin, a quick trip to the internet can be a bit overwhelming. Our go-to is a mineral sunscreen (most dermatologists recommend this over a chemical one), with at least SPF 30, that you wear every single day. Our upcoming Mineral Facial Sunscreen ticks all these boxes and more, with SPF 32, skin-nourishing ingredients like niacinamide, and a lightweight, non-greasy formula!

At the end of the day, of course, whichever kind of sunscreen you choose, something is better than nothing. Now let’s go enjoy summer!


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