Why Higher SPF Numbers Don’t Really Matter (And What To Look Out For Instead)

Sun protection is essential to prevent premature skin ageing, sunburn and more, so get yourself covered with these expert tips

Whether you’re headed for a beach vacation in the Maldives or simply going outdoors on a sunny day in Singapore, wearing sunscreen on a daily basis is vital, says dermatologist Dr Li-Chuen Wong.

higher SPF numbers

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“UVA and UVB rays are emitted all year round. Even on a cloudy day, there is 80 per cent penetration of UV rays to the earth’s surface,” she explains.

SPF (sun protection factor) measures how long it takes for redness to appear on the skin, as compared to when zero product is used. It is important to note that SPF numbers only refer to UVB, which represents about five per cent of the ultraviolet spectrum and is responsible for most of the sunburn. The other 95 per cent is UVA, which causes photo-ageing, pigmentation and the development of skin cancers.

However, there are huge misconceptions about SPF, such as a product with a higher SPF level offers dramatically better protection or allows you to spend a greater amount of time in the sun.

Interestingly, this isn’t exactly the case.

Use this as a guide:

  • SPF30+ sunscreens filter about 96.7 per cent of UV radiation, while SPF50+ sunscreens provide slightly better protection at 98 per cent.  
  • Opt for a broad-spectrum formula – these protect your skin by absorbing or blocking both UVA and UVB rays – and apply it 30 minutes prior to sun exposure.
  • Also, reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.

Read on for more important tips!