Sunscreen 101: Understand What the Labels Mean

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Summer means you're going to be spending lots of time outside—whether it's doing an outdoor bootcamp or just hanging out on the beach in your bikini.
By now you've heard the warnings, spending time outside without sunscreen leads to everything from skin cancer to wrinkles, so you've probably grabbed some SPF and thought you were protected.

Well it turns out you might be wrong. A nonprofit research organization reviewed almost 1,400 sunscreens last year and found that only eight percent met their standards for preventing skin cancer and signs of aging.

How can you ensure that your sunscreen is giving you and your family the protection it needs from the sun?

The "F" in SPF Might be for "False Promises"

For 30 years SPF has been the measurement that people use to choose their sunscreen. SPF or "Sun Protection Factor" is the number of minutes you can be exposed to sunlight without burning—the higher the SPF the longer you can be exposed without reapplying.

The SPF rating only refers to protection against UVB rays—the kind of sunlight that causes burning and some kinds of skin cancer. SPF does not protect against UVA rays, which are the kinds of rays that penetrate deeper into the skin causing the dreaded wrinkles and some of the deadlier kinds of skin cancer.

The FDA is Trying to Change all of This

Sunscreen is a 680 million dollar annual industry. Despite the rampant technological advancements in sun protection the FDA hasn't changed their rules for what can be said on sunscreen labels in 33 years—until now.

As part of the new labeling guidelines you'll be able to identify sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. They will also be stricter about the kinds of claims that sunscreens can make about their durability since all sunscreens will eventually wear off or lose effectiveness after exposure to water.

What to Look for on Your Labels:

  • Sunscreens labeled "broad spectrum" which means they protect against both UVA and UVB
  • Label sunscreens as "water resistant" but then they must specify the exact amount of time that they will hold up when exposed to water

What you Won't Be Seeing on Your Labels:

  • Label sunscreens as "sweatproof" or "waterproof"
  • Label sunscreens higher than SPF 50+ since higher SPFs have been proven to offer little more protection than SPF 50
  • Label sunscreens as "sunblock" since no sunscreen actually blocks 100 percent of all rays