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What is SPF?: How long does it last & which do you need?

SPF is essential to protect your skin from UV rays in your daily life. Discover how SPF works, what factor numbers mean, which to use & how to apply.


SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, what it means is the amount of time the sunscreen will protect your skin from UV rays. The higher the SPF, the longer the protection will last. Learn everything you need to know about SPF including how long factor 50 lasts, how it works and which number is best suited to your skin.

What does the SPF number mean?

The SPF number tells you how long it might take you to get sunburnt after applying it, versus not wearing any at all. As an example: if you can spend 10 minutes in the sunlight without burning, a lotion with SPF10 will multiply this "self-protection time" by 10 to equal 100 minutes.

But keep in mind that this is just an approximation since you might not be taking as long to burn depending on the season, the weather or even your geographic location.



How Does SPF Work?

The active ingredients in sunscreens work to protect skin by either reflecting or absorbing UV rays, preventing sun induced damage. Physical (AKA mineral) sunscreens work to reflect UV light, whereas chemical sunscreens absorb it. The amount of UV rays filtered depends on the level of SPF you apply: 

SPF15 blocks 93% UVB rays
SPF30  blocks 96.7% UVB rays
SPF50 blocks 98% UVB rays
SPF100 blocks 99% UVB rays


UVB rays can never be totally filtered, which is why it is important to reapply SPF protection at least every 2 hours.

Afro hair woman applying Nivea SPF cream


The strength of SPF in your lotion should be at least 30, and chosen depending on your skin type, your application process and your plans for the day. 
Woman applying Nivea SPF spray

Choosing the right SPF for your skin type

Opposite to what we may think, the percentage of melanin present in your skin, which makes your skin colour darker, does not influence the level of SPF you need. Darker skin still needs to be protected against harmful rays, with at least SPF 30. However, when you have a lighter skin tone, you should apply sunscreen more frequently, since the melanin in your skin might not resist the sun for as long.

The minimum level of SPF recommended for each skin type during the average day is:

Dry skin: use SPF 30 
Sensitive skin: SPF 50 as skin is more susceptible to damage, factor 50 will provide stronger protection
Mature skin: also use SPF 50 for similar reasons to sensitive skin, skin becomes more fragile with age

What you should remember about the SPF number is: the higher it is, the longer and better your skin is protected against UV rays. If you have a skin condition and are unsure on the SPF you should be wearing, we would advise you to talk to your doctor.

Should you choose SPF 50 or 30? What’s the difference?

SPF 50 provides approximately 98% protection from UVB rays, as opposed to approximately 96.7% provided by SPF 30. Protection levels above SPF 50 only provide marginally additional coverage and no level of SPF protection can provide 100% protection. In most situations SPF 30 is adequate protection, provided it is applied correctly - SPF 50 remains the safer option to prevent sun induced damage.


First of all, your whole body will need to be covered with sunscreen. Improper application of even the greatest sun lotion will leave parts of your skin exposed to the sun's dangerous UV rays. When applying SPF appropriately, you should completely cover any uncovered areas and reapply as frequently as required to maintain a safe amount of UV protection. 

The amount of SPF to apply for full body coverage will differ depending on age range:

Under 3 years old: Use a minimum of 5 to 10 ml of sunscreen, but keep babies out of direct sunlight at all times and in the shade.
Children (ages 3-5) require at least 10-15ml - for more details on keeping young ones safe, read NIVEA’s children’s sunscreen advice.
Children (ages 5 to 10) require at least 15-20ml.
For a complete body application, adults require at least 30ml.

To apply SPF on your face properly, apply it as the very last step of your skincare routine, and cover your chest area and neck. NIVEA recommends applying sunscreen 20-30 minutes before you expose yourself to the sun because your skin will need time to absorb the SPF.

woman applying Nivea sun protection cream on her son


Nivea Sun Protect 30 SPF

SPF50 should protect you 50 times as long as your skin would be able to naturally protect itself. However, remember that the lower the SPF and longer the length of time since application, the less UVB rays will be filtered, so a reapplication every two hours is highly recommended. 

You should reapply SPF more frequently if swimming or doing sports - as sweat and water can exhaust its protection faster. Keeping travel sunscreen of SPF 30 or 50 can be a handy way of ensuring your protection is topped up throughout the day. 


SPF 50 will give you the best protection, however lower levels are also suitable so long as they are applied correctly and you keep them topped up throughout the day. 

Sun induced damage is one of the main causes of premature ageing, protecting your skin from its rays can help maintain a youthful complexion. Although ageing is a beautiful process, sun damage should be avoided.

Your face is one of the most exposed parts of your body, therefore applying SPF daily is highly recommended to keep it protected. Using a face cream containing SPF is one of the best ways to do this, as day-to-day, particularly when it is cloudy, it is easy to forget this last step in your skincare routine.

NIVEA moisturisers with SPF can be easily introduced into your skincare routine. All have been carefully created with nourishing ingredients to meet the daily needs of skin whilst providing additional SPF protection: from refreshing day creams, tinted creams, to anti-wrinkle creams, all keeping you protected from UV rays.

Woman holding a Nivea Cellular face cream


Woman with curly hair holding a Nivea Protect and Moisture SPF cream

If you would like to provide your skin with the highest amount of protection from UV rays then discover NIVEA Protect & Moisture Ultra SPF 50+. Infused with Vitamin E, the anti-oxidant protects and strengthens your skin barrier, while providing 48H moisture. The sustainable formula is designed to be sweat resistant and non-sticky allowing you to enjoy the outdoors without having to worry about sun damage.

Carefully formulated to give your face immediate and reliable protection, the NIVEA UV Face Specialist Triple Protect Sun Fluid SPF 50+  will be absorbed by your skin faster for quicker action, without feeling greasy, suitable under makeup. This sunscreen for your face will protect your skin against: UV rays, pollution and blue light.

Our full range of NIVEA Sunscreens have been developed and tested by experts for  reliably effective protection, whilst containing additional nourishing ingredients that care for your skin.