Understanding SPF: What It Is, How Much You Need, and When to Use It?


Have you ever gone to the beach, slathered on what you think is a high SPF sunscreen, and still gotten sunburnt? 

If so, you're not alone. 

There's a lot of misinformation and confusion around SPF (Sun Protection Factor), and it's important to understand how to choose the right sunscreen protection for you. 

In this article, we'll tackle key SPF questions so that you can make informed decisions about your sun exposure.

Here's what you'll learn:

  • What is SPF? What does it do?
  • Why does SPF matter?
  • What level of SPF do I need?
  • When do I need to use sunscreen with SPF?
  • What about cosmetics containing SPF? Are they enough?
  • Finally, we'll give you our top SPF sunscreen product recommendations.

Now that you know what to expect, let's jump in and learn about SPF!

What is SPF? What does it do?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It's a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV rays are the invisible rays that come from the sun and can cause sunburn, skin cancer, and other damage to your skin.

There are two types of UV rays:

  • UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, cause wrinkles, and contribute to skin cancer
  • UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn

SPF measures the amount of time it takes for your skin to start burning when you're using sunscreen versus how long it would take without sunscreen. For example, if it normally takes 10 minutes for your skin to start burning, and you're using an SPF 15 sunscreen, it would theoretically take 150 minutes (15 times as long) for your skin to start burning.

However, it's important to understand that SPF only measures protection from UVB rays, not UVA rays. So even if a sunscreen has a high SPF, it might not protect you from all types of sun damage.

Why does SPF matter?

SPF matters because it's one of the best ways to protect your skin from the harmful effects of UV rays. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, and exposure to UV rays is the main cause.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, "One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime." And the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) reports that "Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined total of all other cancers."

While skin cancer is certainly a concern, you don't have to wait until you have skin cancer to take action. Exposure to UV rays can also cause other damage to your skin, such as wrinkles, age spots, and sunburn.

In short, SPF matters because it can help protect your skin from the harmful effects of UV rays, including skin cancer and other damage.

What level of SPF do I need?

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. And if you're going to be spending extended periods in the sun, it may make sense to use an SPF of 50 or higher.

However, the level of protection you need depends on your skin type, how long you'll be in the sun, and whether you're using other forms of protection, such as clothing or shade.

If you have fair skin, for example, you may need a higher SPF. And if you'll be in the sun for an extended period of time, you may need a higher SPF than if you're only going to be in the sun for a short time.

You can also increase your protection by wearing clothing that covers your skin, staying in the shade, and using a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

When do I need to use sunscreen with SPF? 

You should use sunscreen with SPF when you are going to be exposed to the sun for an extended period, or if you are going to be in an environment where the sun's rays are stronger than usual. Some examples of times when you might need to use sunscreen with SPF include: 

  • Spending time outdoors during peak hours (10 am to 2 pm)
  • Working or playing near water, snow, or sand
  • Wearing light-colored clothing
  • Participating in sports
  • Using tanning beds

If you have a history of skin cancer or if you are taking medications that make your skin more sensitive to the sun, you may also want to use sunscreen with SPF, even if you’re not participating in these activities.

What about cosmetics containing SPF? Are they enough?

Many cosmetics – such as foundation, primer, and moisturizer – now contain SPF. However, these products are not usually adequate to provide the level of protection you need.

First of all, you would need to use a lot of products to get the amount of SPF listed on the label. And even if you did use enough product, it's unlikely that you would apply it evenly to your skin.

It's also important to know that most cosmetics with SPF only protect against UVB rays and not UVA rays. So, while they may help prevent sunburn, they will not protect you from the kind of radiation that causes premature aging and skin cancer.

So, if you're going to be in the sun for an extended period of time, or if you're going to be in an environment where the sun's rays are stronger than usual, you should use sunscreen with SPF, in addition to cosmetics containing SPF.

Do I need to wear sunscreen even when it's cloudy?

Yes! You should use sunscreen any time you're going to be outside, even on cloudy days. That's because UV rays can penetrate clouds. In fact, up to 80% of the sun's UV rays can pass through clouds. 

And an estimated 40% to 50% of sun damage occurs during daylight hours when the sun is not necessarily at its strongest but when we are more likely to be outdoors for prolonged periods.

So make sure you're using sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day, even when it's cloudy. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more often if you're sweating or swimming. And don't forget to protect your lips with a lip balm that has SPF in it.

Our top SPF sunscreen product recommendations

Now that you know all about SPF, you may be wondering which sunscreen products you should use to protect yourself from the sun's harmful rays. 

Here are our top SPF sunscreen product recommendations from Australian Gold:


This Australian Gold Plant-Based SPF 70 Lotion is one of the best sunscreens on the market. It's a physical sunscreen, which means it contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients provide broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. 

The product also contains Aloe Vera and Coconut Oil to help soothe and nourish the skin. When used as directed, this sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Why we love it:

  • Anti-aging properties to help diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Non-greasy formula that's perfect for everyday use
  • Light, pleasant scent
  • Hypoallergenic, vegan, cruelty-free, and reef safe
  • Affordable at just $14.99 for 6 oz


Is there anything better than spray sunscreen? This SPF 30 Spray Gel Sunscreen from Australian Gold is just what you need to protect your skin from the sun. This is an innovative hybrid of a gel and a spray, which makes it easy to apply and provides great coverage.

Why we love it:

  • Very easy to apply, even in hard-to-reach areas
  • Dries quickly and doesn't leave a sticky residue
  • The Cocoa Dreams fragrance smells amazing
  • Oxybenzone Free, PABA free, cruelty-free, and reef safe
  • Priced at just $10.49 for 5 oz


This Australian Gold SPF 30 Continuous Spray Sunscreen with Instant Bronzer is a great product for those who want to protect their skin and get a little color at the same time. The continuous spray makes it very easy to apply, and the bronzer gives you an immediate sun-kissed look.

It features an exclusive Quick Dry 360° Protection technology that provides broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection and dries in seconds for a natural, even-looking tan. 

Why we love it:

  • Gives you an instant sun-kissed look
  • The quick-dry formula dries in seconds
  • All-natural ingredients to help soothe and nourish the skin
  • Water-resistant and sweat-proof formula
  • The 6 oz bottle is priced at just $9.99.

Stay safe in the sun this summer with Australian Gold!

The bottom line is that if you're looking to stay safe in the sun, Australian Gold has your back. Our sunscreen products are packed with SPF, so you can rest assured that your skin is protected no matter how long you spend in the sun. 

Plus, our range of shades ensures that everyone can find a perfect match for their skin tone. Our new line of organic sunscreens is designed to provide superior protection from the sun while still being gentle on your skin. 

Check out our website now and see for yourself why Australian Gold is the best choice for all your sunscreen needs.