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Is It Better to Use SPF 30 or 50?

Could the difference in sun protection factor mean more cover for your skin?

August 02, 2023


While you may already know that wearing sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater is necessary every day, year round (even in the winter), you may be unaware that there are different circumstances where you should heed the words “or greater” in that recommendation. If it seems like there’s always an eye-rolling amount to remember when it comes to sun protection, just remember that it’s because the stakes are high. 

Shielding your skin against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays via sunscreen not only helps protect you from premature skin aging and sun damage, but it reduces your risk of developing certain types of skin cancer, as per the Skin Cancer Foundation
. That’s why it’s important to know whether or not you’re using the right SPF at the right times. Keep reading, as we get help from Michelle Henry, MD FAAD, NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and L’Oréal Paris consultant, to answer the burning question (no pun intended), “Is it better to use SPF 30 or 50?”
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Is It Ever Necessary to Use SPF 50 Instead of SPF 30?

You may already know that the typical recommendation for daily SPF is 30; this is the standard for the American Cancer Society, American Academy of Dermatology and Johns Hopkins Medicine (the CDC, FDA and Cleveland Clinic all say SPF 15). But you may have wondered why there are so many broad-spectrum sunscreens and other skin care products (moisturizers, face mists and serums) formulated with SPF 50. Dr. Henry says, there could be several reasons why someone may need to up their sun protection factor.

“Whenever you're outside for more than an hour, I recommend SPF 50,” she says. “So, SPF 30 is good for daily use, but if you're outside for an extended period, I recommend SPF 50. And a part of it is because how we grade sunscreens and their strength or their efficacy is based on the thickness of your application. And for the most part, people just don't apply enough. So, if you're partially applying, I'd rather you partially apply 50 than partially apply 30.”

The AAD confirms that sentiment, stating that many people only apply about 20 to 50 percent of the amount of sunscreen needed to achieve the amount of SPF on the label, so opting for a high-SPF sunscreen can help compensate for this under-application. Your face, neck, arms and legs should get about one ounce of sunscreen (which should cover your entire palm if squeezed into your hand). If you’re just layering on your face and neck (and covering the rest of your body in sun-protective clothing), you need a half teaspoon.

Dr. Henry also recommends SPF 50 for those who are using the standard 30 and find that it’s not effective. “If you're someone who's like, ‘You know, I use SPF 30 and I'm burned immediately,’ then of course you want to use something higher to see if that can help you — that stands for both the face and the body.”

Additionally, Dr. Henry advises that if you’re using medications or ingredients known to increase the skin’s photosensitivity, that’s an instance where you may want to use SPF 50 instead of SPF 30. But note, she also says that moderating your sun exposure is important because sunscreen alone is not the perfect solution. 

“You know, sunscreen is just one part of a sun safe practice,” she explains. “If you're using something that's exquisitely photosensitizing, 50 may not even be enough for you, so what's going to be most important is that you modify your exposure to the sun. And when you are out there, that you're using your sunscreen and that you're reapplying your sunscreen. Making sure that you reapply every two hours is absolutely critical.”

How Strong Is SPF 50 Sunscreen?

The SPF measure refers to how long it would take the sun to burn skin protected with properly used sunscreen versus unprotected; it measures UVB (the rays that cause sunburn and can lead to certain types of cancer) protection only, versus UVA (the rays responsible for tanning and wrinkles).

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states that when a product with SPF 50 is applied, it will protect the skin until it is exposed to 50 times more UVB radiation than that is required to burn the unprotected skin. An SPF 50 allows about two percent of UVB rays to hit your skin, so it blocks 98 percent of UV rays.

SPF 30 vs. SPF 50: What’s the Difference?

Simply put, SPF 30 filters nearly 97 percent of UVB rays while SPF 50 filters about 98 percent. “Although a one percent difference doesn't feel like a lot, because we know you're sweating, you're hiking, you're diluting it, those moments when [you] know you're going to be outside, you're going to be exposed aggressively, that I might recommend getting the highest always,” says Dr Henry

So what about SPF 100? We’ve all seen it on the shelves at the drugstore — it usually costs more, too, so does that mean it’s even more effective. The truth is, SPF 100 offers 99 percent coverage from UVB rays. That’s a one percent difference from SPF 50 and two percent more coverage than SPF 30.

“The reason that sometimes we say don't hang your head on 100 is because people hear 100 and they think, ‘Oh, I'm one hundred percent protected,’ but [we] don't want to give you that false sense of security,” Dr. Henry adds. “I'd rather individuals use the highest SPF that they can tolerate, as long as they don't have a false idea of perfect protection. But if you can tolerate the 100, there's no reason not to use it. If someone's going to be outside, or they're going to be exposed a lot, those are times that I'll say just get the highest you can." 

What Type of SPF Is Best for Face?

The short answer is the type that you like best — but of course, there’s always caveats. If you’re wondering whether you should use a certain form of SPF, then it’s totally up to you. If you love SPF formulated in a liquid sunscreen spray, or prefer a sunscreen lotion, then more power to you. But no matter the formulation, you should always reach for SPF 30 or greater.

Should People With Certain Skin Conditions Use Higher SPF? 

While it isn’t as black and white as saying if you have eczema or hyperpigmentation, you should use a higher SPF, Dr. Henry does agree that opting for the highest protection you can get is never a bad thing, especially if you have an existing skin issue.

“Those are historically sensitive skin types. So, yes, if [someone with a skin condition is] outside, they should [opt for SPF 50],” she says. “To my knowledge, they're not inherently at a higher risk of skin cancer. But based on their constitution, they might be, and their skin is compromised overall. So, yeah, I would definitely recommend SPF for them.”

When asked, she also confirms that sunscreen is absolutely critical and a part of the treatment plan for someone with vitiligo.

Does SPF 50 Clog Pores?

Just because sunscreen has an SPF 50 doesn’t mean it will clog pores. If you have acne-prone skin, oily skin, or are just generally concerned about skin care products clogging your pores, look for formulas that are non-comedogenic or expressly made with your skin type in mind. That way you can avoid sunscreen from clogging your pores and essentially breaking you out

Does SPF 50 Prevent Wrinkles?

Wearing SPF is just one part of a wrinkle-prevention plan but it’s certainly something you should do every day if you want to prevent those signs of aging (and other effects of UV radiation). You don’t necessarily need to wear SPF 50 to do this — as long as you’re wearing the standard recommendation you should be fine. Additionally, you should wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, seek shade whenever possible and stay out of direct sunlight during its peak hours. We’d also argue that having an effective anti-wrinkle cream and the right serums in your skin care arsenal wouldn’t hurt either.

L’Oréal Paris Sunscreen for Face

Now that you know everything you need to know about SPF 30 versus SPF 50 and which one is best for you, you’re probably excited to find out about what options L’Oréal Paris offers. Below, we’re highlighting three SPF products that you can add to your skin care routine, stat. The best part: They’re all affordable and available at the drugstore.

L’Oréal Paris Bright Reveal Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Daily UV Lotion

This lightweight sunscreen layers well under makeup without pilling. The invisible, non-greasy formula is fragrance-free and suitable for sensitive skin, and won’t leave a white cast on any skin tone.

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L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Day Lotion SPF 30

A moisturizer formulated with SPF, this face lotion is made with hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and Pre-Retinol — so you get hydration, brightening, and wrinkle reduction all in one product after just one week of continued use. Not to mention SPF 30 has you covered with sun protection, so if you tend to forget this step you can rest assured.

L’Oréal Paris Wrinkle Expert 55+ Age Defense Lotion SPF

Remember that wrinkle cream we mentioned earlier? Well, this one actually contains SPF to help protect your skin from sun’s rays while it smooths wrinkles. It’s also formulated with calcium, a mineral known for its skin strengthening abilities. While it’s made with the 55 and older crowd in mind, you don’t have to be in your fifties to use it.

Next: Should You Put Sunscreen on Before or After Moisturizer?

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn, Art Director: Hannah Packer, Associate Creative, Producer: Becca Solovay, Digital Tech: Katy Andrascik, Photo Assistant: Sam Kang, Makeup Artist: Jonet Williamson, Hairstylist: Akihisa Yamaguchi, Wardrobe Stylist: Melina Kemph, Wardrobe Assistant: Kayla Martinez, Model: Juli Deng

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