Sunscreen terms: What does SPF mean?


Sunscreen is an integral part of the skincare routine regardless of the season. In the current world scenario with the ozone layer depletion and pollution, it’s far more vital to protect the skin. While buying sunscreens, the typical instinct is to look for the highest SPF. Now, the question is, does a bigger number mean higher efficacy? What’s the meaning of SPF factors/numbers? 

What is SPF?

You may keep hearing or reading how you should check the SPF on your sunscreens. In simple terms, it means sun protection factor, which is a measure of how long a particular sunscreen can protect you from the harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays of the sun.

For instance, sunscreen with an SPF of 30 will protect your skin for about 10 hours. However, the intensity of the sun’s rays varies throughout the day. Hence, you’d have to keep retouching your skin with sunscreen if you have to stay out in the sun for a longer period. 

How Sun Exposure & UV Rays Affect Your Skin?

These UV rays cause reddening of your skin and even cause sunburns. Other than this, the sun rays can damage your epidermal layer. When these skin cells are damaged, it can lead to skin cancer.

Apart from this, pigmentation issues such as dark spots, hyperpigmentation, tanning, and freckles, are mainly caused due to sun exposure. A pigment called melanin in your skin gets produced in large cells referred to as melanocytes present all over the body. Melanin gives your skin its colour and is also responsible for shielding your skin from harmful UV rays. Whenever your skin gets exposed to sunlight, these cells under your skin are triggered. Thus, generating the production of melanin in your skin.

In most cases, the types of pigmentation, such as dark spots, will leave your skin with time if you take the right kind of care of it. Although in pigmentation related issues such as melasma, you’d need a proper treatment plan to get rid of it.

How to Select SPF That’s Right For Your Skin Type?

Choosing the ideal one for your skin would depend on the extent of sun exposure. On usual days, with less sun exposure, a low SPF may seem fine, whereas extreme levels of direct exposure to the sun rays may require a higher number. If you have albinism, immunity-related disorders or skin cancer, you would need sunscreen with high SPF. 

Which SPF is Best for Indian skin?

As India is a tropical country, it tends to be warm or hot throughout the year. Most of the states face high temperatures. So whether you’re going to be in the house or not, SPF 30 or a number higher is appropriate. It also depends on the location or place where you reside. Those staying near the coast or on a beach vacation should opt for sunscreen with SPF 30 to 50.

Are High SPF Sunscreens Harmful?

No, higher SPF isn’t harmful to your skin. However, issues begin to occur when people who use a sunscreen with high sun protection factor tend to stay out for a more extended period without reapplying the sunscreens at regular intervals. Thus the UV rays can, in turn, be dangerous for your skin. A typical assumption is that sunscreens with high SPF provide the best protection. However, that’s not true. Sunscreens with higher SPF block more UVB rays, but apart from that, no sunscreen can offer 100% protection. 

Summing Up

While looking for sunscreens, it’s essential to select the one with SPF that’s suitable for your skin type. Keep the factors mentioned above in mind to help you decide what will work for you. Don’t fall for the trap that higher SPF is better. Also, sunscreen or the SPF alone cannot protect your skin. It’s surely an integral part of your skincare routine that aids in safeguarding your skin but not the only crucial factor. Additional protection in the form of uv blocking sunglasses, hats, clothing are equally important. If you have any doubts or queries related to SPF or sunscreens, talk to a dermatologist.  


1. Is it bad if you use sunscreen every day?

No, not all. You need to use sunscreen every day to protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet rays. 

2. Can you still get a tan if you are using sunscreen with SPF 50?

You can use sunscreen with SPF 50, 15, 30 or whatever number and still get a tan. You need to understand that SPF acts as a barrier and restricts a certain amount of UV rays to get into your skin. However, no sunscreen can provide complete protection. You will anyway tan. 

3. Would you need sunscreen at night?

You don’t need sunscreen at night. If you have been wearing one throughout the day, remove it before sleeping and follow your regular nighttime skincare routine. 

4. Is SPF 30 harmful to your skin?

Generally, there is nothing dangerous about SPF 30. If your sunscreen leads to some adverse reaction, it could be due to the ingredients or other reasons. Hence, speak to a dermatologist immediately to know the exact cause and help you with selecting the right sunscreen. 



Dr Jisha Gomez

Dr Jisha Gomez

She is a highly skilled dermatology physician with strong expertise in improving skin & hair health through the development of corrective treatment combinations. She completed her Post-graduate Diploma in Dermatology from Cardiff, UK & Fellowship in Aesthetic Medicine (FAM) from the Institute of Laser and Aesthetic Medicine, Delhi with over 5+ years experience treating skin patients. She has worked in Government hospitals in Trivandrum and Bangalore. She is actively involved in creating awareness for healthy skin, breaking the social stigma based on skin colour & stopping steroid abuse in our country.