Sunscreen, Explained (2023)

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On the days that aren’t warm and the sun is hiding— is it OK to skip sunscreen? What about on a cloudier, cooler day, or one where your time outside will be limited?

A trio of experts shared why sunscreen is always needed and cleared up common myths and questions about everyday use.

Applying sunscreen to sun-exposed areas daily It’s essential — not excessive.

“The sun’s UV rays are potent, and just 15 minutes outside is enough exposure to cause damage and potentially skin cancer long term,” says Jessica “Nikki” Dietert, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and board-certified and fellowship-trained Mohs Surgeon with Westlake Dermatology in Austin.

You don’t simply get exposed to the sun outside. An older study from 2010 suggested that skin cancers more commonly occurred on the left side in men. This side is the one exposed to the sun while driving.

A 2016 study indicated that windshields blocked about 96 percent of UVA rays. However, some side windows may only block 44 percent.

Dietert says cancers caused by sun exposure can be aggressive and fatal if left untreated. But prevention is the best medicine.

“Applying sunscreen to your face, neck, chest, ears, hands, and arms daily is recommended to prevent long-term damage from the sun,” Dietert says.

Erum N. Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology, agrees, and recommends applying SPF each morning as part of your skincare routine.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends finding a sunscreen that is:

  • SPF 30+
  • broad spectrum, which protects against UVA and UVB rays
  • water resistant

Dietert explains there are two main types of sunscreens: chemical, which filters UV light, and physical (mineral-based), which blocks UV light.

“[Mineral-based sunscreens] generally protect your skin from a broader spectrum of UV light,” Dietert says. “For this reason, finding a sunscreen with mineral ingredients is ideal.”

Dietert adds that these mineral-based sunscreens may be particularly helpful for people with acne-prone or sensitive skin.

“These are less likely to cause irritation and skin allergies,” Dietert says.

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two common ingredients in mineral sunscreens. Dietert recommends people with acne-prone skin look for sunscreen with niacinamide and avoid oil-based ones that can exacerbate the condition.

Protection against skin cancer is a commonly cited reason for applying sunscreen daily — and for good reason. A 2020 review suggested sunscreen decreased the risk of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers.

But the review and dermatologists Anna Chacon, MD, and Ilyas, point to other benefits, including:

  • delaying signs of aging, like wrinkles
  • fading scars
  • Preventing discoloration
  • Protecting from blue light

A 2020 review pointed to wrinkles as one sign that regular sunscreen use could help delay. Chacon also says sunscreen helps fade scars.

Chacon, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist, supports the review, saying sunscreen can also help delay signs of aging.

Ilyas notes that lately, people have become more interested in the blue light that emanates from electronics like tablets and iPhones.

Research from 2022 suggests that a broad-spectrum sunscreen containing phenylene bis diphenyltriazine (TriAsorB™) with SPF 50+ could protect against cellular photodamage from blue light, and another study from 2022 says that blue light makes up only a tiny portion of our UV-light exposure — about 2 to 5 percent.

“Although the effects of DNA damage on our cells is well documented, more than half of the spectrum of light emitted by the sun is visible light,” says Ilyas, who is also the CEO and Founder of AmberNoon.

The myth that people of color don’t need sunscreen is damaging. A 2016 study indicated that the mortality rate for skin cancers was higher for people of color, and UV exposure is a leading cause of skin cancer.

The authors suggested that lack of education about the risks of sun damage in these populations was a reason.

Dietert agrees, advising everyone to apply sunscreen daily, regardless of skin tone.

“Lighter skin tones are at higher risk for skin cancer,” Dietert says. “However, with enough UV exposure, all skin types can develop skin cancer.”

Dietert adds that UV exposure can also lead to aging in all populations.

Sun exposure helps people get Vitamin D, which Chacon says is essential for bone formation.

But she says the pros of wearing sunscreen outweigh the cons. “Too much UV light can cause skin damage by burning the skin and eventually causing it to lose elasticity, leading to premature aging,” Chacon says.

A 2019 review indicated that there isn’t sufficient data to support the claim that sunscreen makes an individual Vitamin D deficient.

If you’re someone who is concerned about Vitamin D due to an existing deficiency, there are options to supplement without putting your skin at risk.

After speaking with your doctor, you could take your pick of over-the-counter oral Vitamin D supplements. You could also increase your natural intake through food, like salmon and egg yolks.

For Melanated Skin

While there are tons of sunscreen options at varying price points, for folks with melanated skin, the unpleasant white cast that often comes with sunscreen may be a concern.

Brands like Supergoop are known for their lack of the dreaded white cast, as well as brands created by and for individuals with darker skin tones, like Black Girl Sunscreen.

What About Make-Up Products With SPF?

Some make-up has SPF, but Chacon warns it’s likely not enough protection. You may need to apply six to seven times the amount of a product to get the appropriate protection, which is more than most people use.

“I like to educate patients as viewing make-up with sunscreen more like “icing on the cake” and used more like an add-on than replacement,” Chacon says.

SPF is important, but experts say it’s best to approach sun protection through different layers of protection.

Dietert suggests wearing wide-brimmed hats and sun-protective or “UPF” clothing with a UPF of 50+.

But again, these measures are a layer and do not negate the need for sunscreen.

“Sunscreen is still important, even when wearing UPF clothing, to screen UV rays reflected off surfaces like water or concrete,” Dietert says.

In addition to re-applying sunscreen every two hours, the AAD also recommends:

  • avoiding tanning beds
  • seeking shade
  • being particularly mindful between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m, when the sun’s rays are the strongest

It’s essential to apply sunscreen every day.

The sun’s rays can still damage the skin when it’s cloudy, and it does not discriminate based on skin tone. Research suggests that even sun exposure through a car window can up the risk for skin cancer.

Look for an SPF of 30+ and reapply every two hours if you are in the sun. Experts say a mineral-based sunscreen is ideal because it protects against a broader spectrum, and individuals with acne should avoid oil-based products.

Other layers of protection, such as UPF clothing, can also protect against sun damage, but they don’t negate the need to wear sunscreen every day.

If you’ve felt deterred by high price points or that pesky white cast in the past, don’t fret — there are tons of options (including some available at drugstores) that have the minerals and SPF that your skin needs to stay healthy.


What are sunscreens explained? ›

Sunscreens are made of a mix of ingredients to help prevent the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching your skin. They come in a range of SPFs. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and measures a sunscreen's ability to prevent one type of UV radiation called UVB (think B for burning) from damaging the skin.

What does 30 and 50 mean on sunscreen? ›

An SPF 30 allows about 3 percent of UVB rays to hit your skin. An SPF of 50 allows about 2 percent of those rays through. That may seem like a small difference until you realize that the SPF 30 is allowing 50 percent more UV radiation onto your skin.

When applying sunscreen How much is enough? ›

To achieve the Sun Protection Factor (SPF, which protects against the sun's UVB radiation) reflected on a bottle of sunscreen, you should use approximately two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin.

Is PA ++ enough? ›

PA++++ sunscreen provides the best level of protection from harmful UVA rays. SPF level: Knowing how much protection you receive from UVB rays is just as important as a sunscreen's PA rating. Look for an SPF of 30 or higher for the best level of protection.

Does sunscreen block 100% UV rays? ›

An SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93% of UVB radiation, and SPF 30 blocks 97%. After that, the difference in protection is small. SPF 50 blocks 98%, and SPF 100 stops 99% of UVB rays from reaching your skin.

What is the difference between types of sunscreen? ›

Think of physical sunscreens like a shield, while chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin. Both ingredients work well to protect from UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) rays. Since physical sunscreens are thicker, they can leave a white cast on the skin.

Should I use factor 30 or 50? ›

Should you choose SPF 50 or 30? What's the difference? SPF 50 provides approximately 98% protection from UVB rays, as opposed to approximately 96.7% provided by SPF 30. Protection levels above SPF 50 only provide marginally additional coverage and no level of SPF protection can provide 100% protection.

Is factor 30 or 50 better? ›

Interestingly, SPF50 offers only marginally better protection from UV radiation than SPF30 filtering out 98 per cent of UV radiation compared to 96.7 per cent blocked by SPF30. It's important to consider how you apply sunscreen.

Which is better SPF 50 or 70? ›

Experts say sunscreens with an SPF higher than 50 aren't worth buying. They only offer marginally better protection. They might also encourage you to stay out in the sun longer. Instead, choose an SPF between 15 and 50, apply liberally, and reapply often.

What is the rule of 2 in sunscreen? ›

Sunscreen can be applied to each of these areas at a dose of 2 mg/cm2 if two strips of sunscreen are squeezed out on to both the index and middle fingers from the palmar crease to the fingertips.

What is 3 finger rule for sunscreen? ›

Ideally, 1 teaspoon of sunscreen needs to be applied on your face. You can even follow Fiddy's 3 finger rule - According to Jade (Fiddy Snails), the equivalent to three fingers is the right amount of sunscreen that needs to be applied on your face to get the right protection.

What is the 3 1 1 rule for sunscreen? ›

Each passenger may carry liquids, gels and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or100 milliliters. Each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of liquids, gels and aerosols.

What does SPF 50 PA++++ mean? ›

PA+ = Some UVA protection. PA++ = Moderate UVA protection. PA+++ = High UVA protection. PA++++ = Extremely High UVA protection.

Is SPF 50 PA ++ enough? ›

PA + has the ability to block UVA rays at 40-50% PA++ ability to block UVA rays. better, at levels from 60-70% PA+++: Good UVA protection, up to 90% PA++++: Very good UVA protection, up to over 95%.

Does SPF 50 mean 50 minutes? ›

“The SPF gives you an idea of how long you can be in the sun before you burn,” adds Peterson Pierre M.D., board-certified dermatologist at the Pierre Skin Care Institute. “For instance, if you're super sensitive and you burn in one minute, a SPF 50 will give you 50 minutes before you burn.”

What is the strongest sunscreen? ›

Let's first break down how the SPF system works: "SPF 15 guards against 93 percent of UVB rays, SPF 30 protects against 97 percent, SPF 50 is about 98 percent, and SPF 100 blocks 99 percent," Joshua Zeichner MD, a board-certified dermatologist from New York City, tells Allure.

Is sunblock better than sunscreen? ›

Sunscreen: Which is Better? In most cases, sunblock is considered to be more effective because it has zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These are the ingredients that meet the FDA's requirements to be labeled as safe and effective.

What is the real highest SPF? ›

The highest SPF is 100 and blocks out 99% of UVB rays. But experts don't necessarily think SPF 100 sunscreen is the best choice. This is only slightly better than SPF 30 and 50 (which is blocks 98% of UVB rays).

Do you put sunscreen or moisturizer first? ›

If you're using a chemical sunscreen, it needs to be applied first. This is because chemical sunscreen needs to penetrate the skin in order to provide protection. However, if you're using a physical sunscreen (also known as mineral sunscreen), sunscreen should be applied after moisturizer.

Why do I still burn with factor 50? ›

The primary reason that so many of us burn so easily is that we simply aren't applying our sunscreen liberally enough. You don't get the protection listed on the label unless you wear the correct amount, so a quick spritz over each limb isn't going to keep you sufficiently shielded from the sun.

Why do I still burn with factor 30? ›

It's likely, if you're using sunscreen and still burning that you're either using the wrong products or not applying them correctly. Both scenarios are dangerous because you're not properly protecting yourself from UV rays.

Is factor 50 too much? ›

Sunscreen products with SPF values above 50+ tend to give users a false sense of security. They not only overpromise protection but may also overexpose consumers to UVA rays and raise their risk of cancer, according to the FDA.

Should everyone use factor 50? ›

Should we be wearing factor 50 sun cream? Not necessarily. According to the NHS, people should “not rely on sunscreen alone to protect yourself from the sun.” SPFs are rated on a scale of 2 to 50+, with 50+ offering the highest level of protection from UVB.

Who should wear factor 50? ›

Berson: An SPF 50 offers a high level of protection and is best for those with a history of skin cancer or those that are fair skinned or at higher risk for skin cancer. An SPF 15 covers 93% of UVB rays and an SPF 30 covers 97% of UVB rays.

Do you tan more with factor 30 or 50? ›

Can you tan with sunscreen SPF 50? SPF 50 filters out approximately 98% of UV rays, which means that around 2% (one-fiftieth) of UV rays get through. In comparison, SPF 30 filters out 96.7% of the UV rays, meaning that 3.3% (one-thirtieth) get through.

Is spray or lotion sunscreen better? ›

Lotions typically have a higher SPF than spray sunscreens, meaning they provide better protection against the sun's harmful rays. Also, they provide good coverage and can be less expensive than sprays, but they're also messier to apply.

Is SPF 50 good for daily use? ›

For day-to-day use, pick a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. If you spend time outdoors, choose a product with SPF 60 or greater. In reality, most people do not use as much sunscreen as they should, and this higher SPF helps compensate for the reduced application.

Can you still tan with SPF 30? ›

An SPF also means that a certain percentage of skin-aging UVB rays are still allowed to penetrate the skin. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 3% of UVB rays can enter your skin with SPF 30, and 2% with SPF 50. This is also how you can still get tan while wearing sunscreen.

What is the two finger trick sunscreen? ›

The method involves applying two lines of sunscreen directly onto your index and middle fingers first, starting from the base of the fingers which connects to the palm, until the very tips. Then you use this to apply to your face and neck. With this amount, you are sure to be protecting your skin.

Is 2 fingers enough sunscreen? ›

Again, even two finger-lengths of sunscreen still isn't enough to protect your entire body — just one part of your body (like your face and neck). No matter what technique you use, the experts agree: don't be shy when layering up with your favorite body lotion or face moisturizer with SPF!

Does SPF still work after 2 hours? ›

A sunscreen's sun protection factor (SPF) is only fully effective for two hours after you put it on. Experts recommend carrying a bottle of SPF 30 to SPF 50 sunscreen around with you, even on cloudy or rainy summer days, so you can throw some on if the sun comes out.

Should you pat or rub in sunscreen? ›

Once you've applied the sunscreen, make sure to rub it fully into the skin until you cannot see it anymore. Dermatologists recommend your fingers as the best applicator here, but you can use a sponge or brush so long as you're accounting for the amount of sunscreen that will get absorbed into the tool.

Can you put on too much sunscreen? ›

While there is no evidence sunscreen is explicitly harmful to humans, that doesn't mean you should apply it gratuitously. In fact, when deciding how much is too much, you'll want to consider skin sensitivities, how long the skin is in the sun, and the power of the sunscreen.

Why wait 15 minutes after sunscreen? ›

It takes approximately 15 minutes for your skin to absorb the sunscreen and protect you. If you wait until you are in the sun to apply sunscreen, your skin is unprotected and can burn.

Should you reapply sunscreen every 2 or 3 hours? ›

Sunscreen should always be reapplied at least every two hours, irrespective of the water resistance of the sunscreen. Swimming, sport, sweating and towel drying can reduce the effectiveness of the product, so sunscreen should always be reapplied after these activities.

What is the teaspoon rule for sunscreen? ›

The teaspoon rule is a super easy way to remember how much sunscreen you need to apply! For an adult, the Cancer Council recommends approximately 1 teaspoon for each arm, leg, body front, body back, and face (including your neck and ears). That means you should use 7 teaspoons for a full body application.

Do you need 2 layers of sunscreen? ›

It is very important that we make it a habit to apply two layers of sunscreen every time. The extra layer is like checking your work to make sure that all parts of the skin are covered. It is important to protect our skin at all times and especially when doing outdoor activities.

Is SPF 20 PA ++ enough? ›

The lighter your skin, the more easily it will get burned by the sun's UV rays. However, all skin types can get sun burned and suffer damage from UV rays. Therefore, dermatologists recommend that everyone use sunscreen of at least SPF 30.

Does SPF 30 mean 30 minutes? ›

"Imagine that your skin normally begins to burn after 10 minutes in full sun without any protection. A 30 SPF sunscreen would provide 30 times the protection of no sunscreen." That means 30 times longer before you start to burn, or in this case, 300 minutes.

Is UVA or UVB worse? ›

UVA rays, while slightly less intense than UVB, penetrate your skin more deeply. Exposure causes genetic damage to cells on the innermost part of your top layer of skin, where most skin cancers occur. The skin tries to prevent further damage by darkening, resulting in a tan.

Is SPF 50 really necessary? ›

Everyone, regardless of age, gender or race, should use sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

How long does SPF 50 last? ›

It needs to be reapplied at least every two hours, irrespective of the water resistance of the sunscreen, and should be reapplied after swimming, sport, sweating and towel drying.

How much PA in sunscreen is good? ›

3. Meaning of PA. PA++ is better at blocking UVA rays, at 60-70% and the filter time is about 4-6 hours. PA++++: Very good UVA protection, up to over 95%.

Does SPF 50 last 500 minutes? ›

So sunscreen with an SPF of 50 means that when used on the skin, it can protect the skin against the harmful effects of UVB rays for about 500 minutes and has the ability to block the penetration of UVB rays into the body. up to 98%.

Does SPF 100 last longer? ›

So, while higher is better in that sense, a higher SPF won't protect you for a longer amount of time, says Green. Using a high SPF such as 100 can give you a false sense of protection, because people assume that SPF 100 allows them to stay in the sun for a longer period of time without reapplying, she explains.

What does SPF 50 mean? ›

SPF is short for sun protection factor, and the higher the number that follows it, like SPF 50 for example, the more time you may be able to spend in the sun without getting sunburnt from its ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.

Do all sunscreens have UVA and UVB protection? ›

Without the words “broad spectrum” your sunscreen likely doesn't offer coverage from UVA, Kundu says. Most active ingredients in sunscreen shield against UVB, but far fewer have UVA coverage, and only a handful offer both.

How does sunscreen block UV light? ›

A sunscreen product acts like a very thin bulletproof vest, stopping the UV photons before they can reach the skin and inflict damage. It contains organic sunscreen molecules that absorb UV and inorganic pigments that absorb, scatter and reflect UV.

What is the difference between using sunscreen and sunblock? ›

The difference between sunscreen and sunblock

Most sunscreens only cover UV-B rays. Sunblock physically blocks the sun's UV rays from penetrating the skin, acting as a barrier. Sunblocks contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and protect the skin against both UV-A and UV-B rays.

Is SPF 30 enough or 50 better? ›

A sunscreen with SPF 30 will protect you from around 96.7% of UVB rays, whereas an SPF of 50 means protection from about 98% of UVB rays. Anything beyond SPF 50 makes very little difference in terms of risk of sun damage, and no sunscreens offer 100% protection from UVB rays.

What block 100% of UVA and UVB rays? ›

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, sunglasses with a UV 400 rating block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB radiation. Thus, UV 400 is the gold standard of UV protection.

Does 100% UV mean UVA and UVB? ›

Well, look for the label that says "100% UV protection" or "UV400," which indicates that they block both UV-A and UV-B rays. UV400 sunglasses come in various types, from aviators to wayfarers and everything in between, so you can find a style that suits your taste.

Which is more harmful UVA or UVB? ›

Although UVA is generally far less carcinogenic than UVB radiation, it is present more abundantly in sunlight than UVB radiation (> 20 times radiant energy) and can, therefore, contribute appreciably to the carcinogenicity of sunlight. In contrast to UVB, UVA radiation is hardly absorbed by DNA.

What sunscreen blocks the most UV rays? ›

SPF 50 or higher sunscreens offer the highest level of protection currently available in a sunscreen product, blocking between 98% and 99% of UVB radiation.

How can I protect my UV without sunscreen? ›

They'll come in handy on your next beach vacation and for other outdoor activities.
  1. Cover yourself with clothing and a hat. ...
  2. Wear sunglasses to protect your face and eyes. ...
  3. Use an umbrella or parasol when going outdoors. ...
  4. Avoid UV lights. ...
  5. Eat foods that provide sun protection.
Apr 18, 2022

Which chemical sunscreens to avoid? ›

Chemicals to avoid in sunscreen include:
  • Oxybenzone.
  • Avobenzone.
  • Homosalate.
  • Octinoxate.
  • Octocrylene.
  • Cinoxate.
  • Dioxybenzone.
  • Ensulizole.
Jul 30, 2019

Why you shouldn t wear sunscreen with SPF higher than 50? ›

Sunscreen products with SPF values above 50+ tend to give users a false sense of security. They not only overpromise protection but may also overexpose consumers to UVA rays and raise their risk of cancer, according to the FDA.

Is it better to put sunscreen over or under moisturizer? ›

However, a physical sunscreen (aka mineral sunscreen) should always be applied after your moisturizer. This is because a physical sunscreen sits on top of the skin—it never penetrates it—instead creating a barrier between your skin and UV rays, reflecting them away.

Which is safer sunblock or sunscreen? ›

Sunscreen: Which is Better? In most cases, sunblock is considered to be more effective because it has zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These are the ingredients that meet the FDA's requirements to be labeled as safe and effective.


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