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Do I need a high SPF sunscreen?

Short answer - No

Products with SPF 50 and higher don't really protect the skin's surface much better than one with 30 SPF, and they create a false sense of security by masking damage that occurs in deeper skin layers. Plus the ingredients needed to actually achieve high SPF are unsafe.


SPF Measures UVB Rays Only

First, SPF refers ONLY to surface protection, i.e. its ability to protect against redness and burns. It does NOT have anything to do with deeper layer defense, i.e. against damage that causes long-term health issues including skin cancer.

That is why petrochemical sunscreens in the US (which are a disaster for longterm health) add either avobenzone or oxybenzone, since they theoretically defend against those deeper UVA rays and so allow calling themselves "broad spectrum" (but since they photodegrade quickly when used, they tend to allow significant deep tissue damage while simultaneously preventing surface clues, so the user stays out longer, doesn't reapply, then finds out in their 50s and 60s they have skin cancer, which has grown by 400% in the last 40 years, while Americans have bought and used 400% more sunscreen per person).

Also, both ingredients, along with all other petrochemicals, are unsafe for use, since they cause hormone damage and chemical damage (in short, 1 single dose of petrochemical sunscreen delivers an amount of contaminants that are AVOIDED by eating organic foods for an ENTIRE YEAR).


Use Zinc Oxide Sunscreen

To get safe, effective coverage, you need either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, both mineral ingredients. However, zinc oxide is VASTLY superior to titanium dioxide, for 2 main reasons. Most importantly, titanium dioxide doesn't cover the entire UVA portion of the spectrum, allowing a great deal of deep tissue damage, even while the user sees no effects at the surface (similar to petrochemicals).

Zinc oxide is also much more stable in UV energy and so produces fewer free radicals. Zinc oxide is the ONLY active ingredient that covers the ENTIRE UVA/UVB spectrum by itself (it also covers UVC, which isn't an issue, since our atmosphere already filters it, and blue light), and it's the ONLY ingredient completely safe for use on babies (and any other humans).


Look for SPF 30-35

However, SPF of zinc oxide formulations are limited to around 35 (our highest SPF, and we use the MOST zinc oxide allowed, 25%). To get higher SPFs, some brands will add anti-inflammatories to basically fool the SPF tests by inhibiting inflammation which slows the skin's red reactions. In short, it fools the testers (and ultimately the sunscreen user) into seeing less red reaction while significant damage is occurring below the surface.

Or they'll add either petrochemicals or titanium dioxide. Neither are good options. Also, almost all 50 SPF and higher products are actually just overstating their true SPF values, and they're able to get away with it because sunscreen regulatory enforcement is weak in the face of big skincare company lobbyists. Lastly, SPF suffers from diminishing returns.

For example, consider 2 sunscreens, one with 30 SPF and another with 50 SPF. Skin exposed for 4 hours will receive the equivalent of 8 minutes of UV rays using 30 SPF and a little less than 5 minutes while using 50 SPF. That’s not much difference. In short, using a top-quality 30-35 SPF is the best approach.


Try Waxhead Sunscreen

If you want THE best protection for your skin, try either our 35 SPF vitamin E+D enhanced sunscreen, which is very thick and white, or our 30 SPF sport stick, which is even thicker, and comes in untinted and tinted varieties (using certified organic cocoa, which can stain clothing).

These and any of our other sunscreens don't just protect you from the sun's rays, they actually NOURISH your skin. (This includes our 31SPF tinted tubes, which use iron oxides as tint, and our 20 SPF lip balm.)



1. Know your ingredients — Flip over your sunscreen and read the ingredients. We want everyone to know what good ingredients are, regardless of whether they use our products or not. Your health is worth it.

2. Buy safe sunscreen — Waxhead is dedicated to using only the healthiest, safest, most effective ingredients in our sunscreens. Shop Safe Sunscreen here.

3. Teach a friend — If you know someone who might still be buying sunscreen with questionable ingredients, please share this post with him/her.



Ask us anything!

Email Mac questions about sunscreen, skincare or anything outdoors >



Do I need a high SPF sunscreen?

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