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SPF 30 vs 50: Which One Is Better For Your Skin?

At Coolibar, we know that the amount of sun protection options on the market can be overwhelming and leave you with a lot of questions like if SPF 30 vs. 50 is better for your skin.  

Whether you love spending all your free time outside at the beach or you just venture out for the occasional picnic or hike, sun protection is essential. UVA and UVB sun rays can damage your skin, causing sunburns and wrinkles, and increasing your risk of cancer. That’s why understanding the difference between SPF 30 and 50 is necessary to properly protect yourself from damaging sun exposure.

Learn more about how to safely enjoy your time outdoors with our 10 tips for sun protection. It covers how to apply sunscreen correctly and alternative sun protection options to ensure you and your loved ones are always shielded from the sun’s damaging rays. 

What is SPF?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. The SPF rating number tells us how much of the sun’s harmful rays will reach our skin while using the sunscreen according to the directions. The higher the SPF rating, the more UV sun rays are blocked. So, the most straightforward answer to whether there is a difference between SPF 30 and 50 is yes!

But what are UV rays exactly? UV stands for ultraviolet. UV rays are invisible beams of light from the sun that can damage our skin. There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB.

  • UVA rays from the sun do not cause sunburns, but they can cause wrinkling and other skin-aging effects. While some sunscreens protect against UVA rays, the SPF rating does not measure this.
  • UVB rays are those pesky ones that burn our skin and can lead to cancer. All SPF sunscreens protect against UVB rays, but check your sunscreen to make sure it says “broad spectrum.” This means it protects against the aging effects of UVA rays as well.

Remember that UV rays can damage your skin even on cloudy days, so no matter what SPF rating you choose, make sure to lather up any time you are going to head outside! Also, according to sunscreen expert Kirk Minster, the specific ingredients in your sunscreen matter, so make sure to do your research when choosing the best sunscreen for your skin. 

What’s the Difference Between SPF 30 and SPF 50?

In the debate between SPF 50 vs. 30, it’s vital to understand what these ratings mean. Since we know that higher SPF ratings indicate more protection, SPF 50 protection is going to be stronger than SPF 30. But let’s dive more into each of these ratings.

SPF 30

So what is SPF 30, and why is SPF 30 good? SPF 30 sunscreen only allows 1/30 of the sun’s UVB rays to penetrate your skin. That means it blocks about 96.7% of those harmful rays. To ensure this level of protection, make sure to follow all directions on the sunscreen label, including reapplying at least every two hours.

  • Recommended protection: SPF 30 sunscreen meets the recommended SPF rating from the Skin Cancer Foundation. They recommend SPF 15 for everyday use and SPF 30 for those days where you are spending hours outside.
  • Reduced risk of cancer: Because UVB rays are the ones responsible for causing skin cancer, all SPF 30 sunscreens help protect you from this risk. 
  • Everyday protection: UVB rays can even penetrate through windows, so SPF 30 can provide everyday protection while driving or sitting at home. 
  • Who should wear it: Anyone who is outside for longer than 20 minutes a day, even on cloudy days, can benefit from wearing SPF 30 sunscreen.

SPF 50

SPF 50 sunscreen only allows 1/50 of the sun’s UVB rays through, blocking 98% of them. Answering the question of is SPF 30 or 50 better is really a personal decision. If you are still getting burned while using SPF 30 sunscreen according to the directions, then consider switching to a different SPF sunscreen with a higher rating.

  • More protection: SPF 50 blocks about 1.3% more harmful UVB rays than SPF 30.
  • Longer protection: SPF 50 sunscreens can protect your skin for longer, which means you have to reapply less often. Many SPF 50 sunscreens recommend reapplying every 150 minutes rather than the recommended 120 minutes for SPF 30. 
  • Protection at high elevation: The sun’s rays are stronger at higher elevations, so if you are going skiing or hiking in the mountains, consider SPF 50 or higher.
  • Who should wear it: Anyone with an increased risk of skin cancer, has prolonged sun exposure, or is outdoors at high elevations may benefit from SPF 50 sunscreen.

UPF is Also Important for Sun Protection

Now that the critical question, “What is the difference between SPF 30 and 50?” is answered, let’s look at another type of sun protection: UPF clothing. UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor. It’s similar to SPF ratings in that it measures how much of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate through the clothing’s fabric to your skin. A shirt with a UPF 50 rating will only allow 1/50 of UV rays through.

The biggest difference between SPF and UPF is that UPF ratings measure both UVA and UVB rays while SPF ratings only measure UVB rays. This means you are potentially getting more sun protection from UPF clothing than you are from sunscreen. Even with broad-spectrum sunscreen, you may not know exactly how much UVA protection you are getting. Furthermore, sunscreens often contain harmful chemicals, while UPF clothing protects your skin without any dangerous additives.

Learn more about the benefits of UPF clothing versus sunscreen on our Respect the Sun blog.

Discover UPF Sun Protection Clothes and Accessories From Our Team at Coolibar

Sun protection is no longer simply a question of SPF 30 vs. 50. There are broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect against UVA and UVB rays, plus there are more quality UPF clothing on the market than ever before. We offer a variety of clothing with UPF sun protection, including wide-brimmed hats, sun sleeves, and breathable gloves. We’ve got you covered no matter how you like to spend your time in the sun, whether it be lounging at the beach or summiting a mountain!

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Expert Rx

How to Properly Help Protect Your Eyes From UV Exposure

By Susan Resnick, OD, FAAO, Drs. Farkas, Kassalow, Resnick & Associates, New York

Throughout my career, I’ve seen thousands (maybe even tens of thousands!) of patients in my practice, and one of the most common items that links everyone together is the lack of understanding of the dangers that UV rays pose to the health of our eyes. I advocate for full body protection – broad spectrum sunscreen and UPF clothing for the skin, and comprehensive protection for the eyes.

But first, let me explain why UV exposure can potentially harm the health of your eyes. A number of studies have shown that the effects of UV radiation to the eyes are mostly cumulative, and UV exposure may increase the chance of developing eye problems later in life. Once you, or your eye doctor, notices damage, it’s often too late to reverse it.

It’s also important to know that if it is daytime; your eyes are being exposed to UV rays. A cloudy day is no excuse for not protecting your eyes – it’s estimated that up to 80% of UV rays can pass through thin clouds1. Appropriate protection is also vital in all four seasons – while direct sunlight itself can be harmful, reflected UV rays can increase your UV exposure. For example, fresh snow reflects as much as 80% of UV rays2 and those rays can bounce up directly into the eyes.

So what should you do each day to help protect your eyes from the sun? Start with a wide-brimmed hat, like a sun hat or a baseball cap. The hat helps to block the sun from above, especially when it is highest in the sky (10 a.m. – 2 p.m.).

Second, high-quality, UV blocking sunglasses are essential. Not all sunglasses are equal, and UV blocking doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. Pay attention to labels, and look for 100% UVA/UVB blocking. Sunglasses that block at least 99 percent of UV are OK too – you want to limit UV transmission to no more than 1 percent UVB and 1 percent UVA rays. Make sure to look for frames that wraparound the face, and cover the eyes from the eyebrow to the upper cheek.

For those who require vision correction, UV blocking contact lenses+* can offer an additional measure of UV protection. Not all contact lenses offer UV protection, and of those that do, not all provide similar absorption levels. ACUVUE® Brand Contact Lenses is the only major brand which blocks approximately 97% of UVB and 81% of UVA rays as standard across the entire range of its products+*. Although UV-blocking contact lenses are beneficial in helping to protect against harmful UV rays, clinical studies have not been done to show they reduce the risk of any specific eye disease or condition. That’s why it is important to wear them as part of a comprehensive sun protection plan along your wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

Talk to your eye doctor about UV protection, and for additional information, check out “The Sun & Your Eyes: What You Need to Know” at www.acuvue.com/sunandyoureyes.

1 Sunburn: Causes, Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sunburn/basics/causes/con-20031065

2 Global solar UV Index, World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/who271/en/print.html

 

Susan Resnick, OD, FAAO, is a partner at Drs. Farkas, Kassalow, Resnick & Associates. She authors, lectures and consults in the areas of specialty contact lenses and emerging vision and eyecare technologies. In addition to her contact lens specialty, Dr. Resnick maintains a strong interest and participation in primary optometric care including binocular vision assessment and pediatric examinations. Dr. Resnick is an authoritative source for eye health and has been quoted in Women’s Health, FoxNews.com, Allure.com and Glamour.com, among others and serves as an advisor to the industry as a clinical investigator in the contact lens and pharmaceutical fields. Dr. Resnick is a member of the America Academy of Optometry and the Nassau County Optometric Society.  Dr. Resnick is a paid consultant for Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc., which provided support for this content.

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