Decoding Sunscreen Labels

Can you trust the label?

temecula personal trainersSummer is here and it’s time to spend time outdoors. Whether you’re heading to the beach or working in the garden, the sun will be waiting for you!

You’ve heard the dangers of over-exposure to the sun’s harmful rays: increased risk of skin cancer, premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, tumors, and discoloration of the skin. While a little sun may make you feel good and you may like the way it makes your skin appear for a short time, the damage it does to the largest organ of your body will definitely show as you age.

Therefore, protecting your skin and foregoing tan is the best thing for your good health.

As you scan store shelves wondering which sunscreen to purchase, you may have a difficult time understanding what the various sunscreen labels mean. Some sunscreens claim various features such as “sweatproof,” “waterproof,” “all-day protection,” or “protects against skin cancer.” Are these claims accurate? What does it mean to have a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen, and what’s SPF? Is sunscreen really sun block?

You have questions, and the United States Food and Drug Administration listened. In fact, the FDA announced that many sunscreen claims are misleading and false. Thanks to new FDA guidelines, all sunscreen manufacturers are required to test their products to see if they live up to their claims.

Here are what new guidelines will mean for sunscreen in the United States. (Note: Regardless of where you’re living, keep reading for vital information on sunscreen lingo.)

Broad Spectrum

A sunscreen labeled as “broad spectrum” is your safest bet. These products protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. Many sunscreens only offer protection against UVA or UVB rays. If a sunscreen is labeled as “broad spectrum,” you’ll know you’re getting the best protection.

Broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF greater than 15 can claim to lower the risk of skin cancer, sunburn, and premature aging. Under the new guidelines, a product label of a sunscreen with an SPF less than 14 must clearly contain a warning that it will only help prevent sunburn. These sunscreens do not protect against skin cancer or wrinkles.

Waterproof? Sweatproof?

Under new guidelines, sunscreen labels can no longer use the word “proof,” as waterproof and sweatproof are false claims. After an extended period of time, all sunscreen is rubbed off or dissolved in water. Because of this, labels must let consumers know how often the sunscreen needs to be reapplied. New labels will say something like, “water resistant for up to 40 minutes” or some may be longer. This means that the sunscreen should be reapplied at least every 40 minutes, and more often if you’re in the water or sweating.


A second word no longer permitted on sunscreen labels is “block,” as the term “sunblock” has also been deemed inaccurate and false. The FDA has ruled sunblock doesn’t exist, as the sun’s rays will eventually reach your skin - regardless of the type or amount of lotion you put on your body.

All-Day Protection?

It may have put you at ease in the past, but no sunscreen can claim to provide all-day protection. Even with an SPF of 50, you’ll need to reapply at least every two hours. If you’ve been in the water or sweating, reapply more frequently.


Now that you’ve seen SPF multiple times, it’s time to learn what it means. SPF stands for sun protection factor. Before the new guidelines, SPF only measured UVB ray protection, not the UVA rays which are more dangerous and cause cancer. An SPF of 15 protects against 93 percent of UVB rays. SPF 30 filters out 97 percent, and SPF 50, 98 percent. One or two percent may not seem like much, but it makes a big difference for those who are fair skinned, light sensitive, or have had skin cancer. A higher SPF may offer more protection for those who don’t use as much or don’t reapply as often.

Notice that even the SPF of 50 still lets two percent of UV rays through. Make sure your sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection against both types of ultraviolet radiation.

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