Think SPF 50 Is Better Than SPF 20? Think Again!

Published On 18 Nov 2019
Written by
Team Setu
Written by
Team Setu

As a child, every time I stepped out into the sun, my mother would worry about me burning my skin due to the sun exposure and all the UV rays, and she’d apply sunscreen on my body like a shield of protection. Last month when I went to Goa, following my mother’s footsteps, I generously applied sunscreen before I even peeked at the sun. Little did I know, there are chemical and technical glitches in my sunscreen and its SPF.

The SPF Effectiveness

I never paid attention to the SPF rating of sunscreen while picking it up from the supermarket’s broad spectrum sunscreens, neither did I think twice about the ways of application. I mean who would? There’s a bright shining sun over the beach and all my friends have already left. Do you really think I would have the time to ponder over how much sunscreen my body actually needs? Turns out, it’s an important detail if you really want to protect your skin.

A study [1] concluded that the SPF method uses a biological marker of individuals, which is the amount of erythema or redness response of the skin in the sun. Hence, the results vary from person to person. Plus, the results also depend on other factors like amount and manner of application and UV radiation of the sun. Since you and I cannot control the sun and its power, the how and how much is pretty much the only thing we can take care of.

Is More SPF Better?

While I spent a lot of my free time in the bathroom reading labels of shampoos and conditioners, I missed the sunscreen placed right in front of me. Now I regret all the impulsive buying I did seeing sunscreens labeled water resistance, sweat-proof, instant protection, uv protection or sunblocks. Did you know they are not legally permitted as these claims overemphasise the product’s efficacy? Neither did I. To top it all, I always pick the sunscreen with an SPF of more than 50 because I thought the more the SPF, the better the protection. SPF stands for sun protection factor and evidently I thought it functions just like its name suggests.

There is a lack of evidence to support that sunscreens with an SPF of more than 50 have better efficacy than those containing SPF 50 or below [2]. Additionally, sunscreens, particularly those with high SPF, may lead to a significant decrease in vitamin D production. Some sunscreen chemicals like cinnamates, PABA derivatives, benzophenones, and octocrylene cause acute or chronic allergy symptoms [3].

SPF Reacts More Than It Acts

Once I started reading about SPF, I came across a lot of details I wish I knew (or my mother knew) earlier. Soon after calculating the amount and manner my body would accept, I figured that all the red spots and burnt skin rashes weren’t a side effect of too much fun. In a recent study [4] about people applying sunscreen daily, 19% developed adverse reactions and the majority of reactions were irritant in nature. They also complained about acne and stinging or burning of the eye area when applying sunscreen.

It is also observed that after exposure to sunlight, many sunscreen chemicals undergo degradation and lose their photoprotective properties. Thus, even after wearing sunscreen, your skin may be burnt, and covered with spots and rashes.

What Is The Solution?

The next time you want to step out in the sun with a carefree attitude, opt for organic sunscreen lotions (with zinc oxide) from reputed brands. You can also work on improving your immunity with natural chemicals. Try polyphenols [5] (cloves, cocoa powder, dark chocolate), carotenoids (pumpkins, carrots, corn, tomatoes), anthocyanidins (blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries), and vitamins. They are more effective due to their long term beneficial effects especially against free radicals-generated skin damages along with UV-rays blocking.


  1. http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S0365-05962011000300013&script=sci_arttext&tlng=en
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3543289/
  3. https://phcogj.com/sites/default/files/10.5530pj.2016.3.1.pdf
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3460660/
  5. https://phcogj.com/sites/default/files/10.5530pj.2016.3.1.pdf
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