How to Read Your Sunscreen Ingredient Label

With summer in full swing, it’s more important than ever to have sun safety top of mind.

SPF stands for sun protection factor. A formula’s SPF gives you the interval time frame in which the sunscreen will prevent you from developing a burn from UVB light. SPF varies by product, ranging from about 15 to over 100, but a higher number doesn’t always mean better protection. As SPF levels increase beyond 50, the formulations tend to be thicker and leave a chalkier appearance, and most people will under-compensate that white chalkiness by not utilizing the right amount of sunscreen with each application.

UVB rays damage the skin’s upper surface and are the main cause of sunburn. To best protect your skin, you need protection against two types of ray. To safeguard your skin, opt for labels that advertise broad spectrum protection, which fights both UVA and UVB light.

Chemical and mineral sunscreens both work, albeit in different ways. Simply put, chemical sunscreens rely on ingredients that cause chemical reactions to absorb UV rays and release them from the skin. Mineral sunscreens, on the other hand, use inorganic compounds, which sit on top of the skin to deflect and scatter rays. Mineral or natural sunscreens are less irritating than chemical ones. If you have sensitive skin, look for formulations that contain physical blockers.

Water resistant indicates whether a sunscreen can provide adequate protection for 40 minutes or 80 minutes when a person is swimming or sweating. However, that resistant doesn’t mean full protection. Since no sunscreen is fully waterproof or sweat-proof, the FDA does not allow these terms on sunscreen labels. So while a sunscreen advertised as water-resistant may be a better choice for swimming, you still need to regularly reapply.

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