What’s the difference between SPF30+ vs. SPF50+?

Updated 6 Dec 2017.

No matter how hot it is outside, it's important to stay SunSmart when the UV is above 3* by remembering to Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek, Slide!

SPF30+ versus SPF50+

The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of a sunscreen is a measure of how well it protects the skin from sunburn. Sunscreens need to be applied liberally to achieve the SPF protection claimed on the label.

We recommend using any sunscreen that is labelled broad spectrum, water-resistant and SPF30+ or above.

Interestingly, SPF50+ offers only marginally better protection from Ultra Violet (UV) radiation than SPF30+. Filtering out 98% of UV radiation compared to 96.7% blocked by SPF30+.

SPF50+ sunscreen still needs to be applied just as liberally, re-applied every two hours (or after swimming, exercising and towel drying) and used in combination with other sun protection measures including sun protective hats, protective clothing, sunglasses and shade.

What do all the sunscreen terms mean?

SPF: The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of a sunscreen is a measure of how well it protects the skin from sunburn. Sunscreens need to be applied liberally to achieve the SPF protection claimed on the label.

Water resistant: Does not come off the skin during swimming or exercise, provided it is not wiped off. While a label may state a sunscreen is '4 hours water resistant', sunscreen still needs to be applied every two hours to maintain the same level of protection.

Broad-spectrum: Broad-spectrum sunscreens filter both UVA and UVB rays. UVB is the principal cause of sunburn, but both UVA and UVB contribute to increased skin cancer risk.

The '+' sign: The plus sign means 'more than'. For example, the new SPF50+ sunscreen must provide at least SPF60 in testing. This is because the same batch of sunscreen will test slightly differently in different laboratories with different methodology. By testing at SPF60, it removes any margin for error. In the previous 1998 standard, some sunscreens labelled SPF30+ actually provided much higher protection, but were not allowed to be labelled any higher than 30+. In the new standard, sunscreens can be labelled higher than SPF30+, SO the '+' sign after SPF30 is redundant.

Applying sunscreen

Apply a generous amount of sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside and again every two hours (whether or not the label tells you to).

The average-sized adult should apply more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen (about 3 ml) to each arm and the face/neck (including ears), and just over one teaspoon (about 6 ml) to each leg, front of body and back of body. That is, 35 ml of sunscreen for one full body application, for an average-sized adult.

Many Aussies apply too little sunscreen and forget to re-apply every two hours. This means they usually get less than half the protection stated on the product label. Sunscreen can be easily wiped off, lost through perspiration and is often applied unevenly in the first place. Putting on more sunscreen every two hours helps keep you protected. It's important to remember to reapply after swimming or water sports also.

*Think UV, not heat

Many people mistakenly believe they only need sun protection on hot, sunny days. However, it is Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, not heat, that is the major cause of sunburn, premature ageing, eye damage and skin damage leading to skin cancer!

UV can't be seen or felt -it's not like the sun's light which we see, or the sun's warmth which we feel. Because of this, it can be damaging without us knowing.

It's crucial that you are vigilant when it comes to the UV rating each day. Often, the UV can be high on cool, cloudy days. A great way to keep track of the live daily UV rating where you are is via our free SunSmart app which can be downloaded here or by checking our MyUv website and typing in your suburb.

5 ways to protect yourself when the UV is above 3

Read more about how to be SunSmart on our MyUv website.

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