Decode Your Sunscreen Bottles

Decode Your Sunscreen Bottles

When it comes to sun protection, UPF50+ clothing and swimwear is the most protective way to go. You will, however, need to also apply sunscreen on the areas that can't be covered by your UPF50+ (ex: tops of feet, ears, neck, scalp, fingers, etc).

There are so many different sunscreen options on the market and it can feel very overwhelming deciding which one is right for you and your skin type. Without some sort of prior learning and knowledge, most of us don't fully understand what all the words actually mean on SPF bottles.

We've collected all the details about sunscreen below so the next time you're picking up SPF from the drug store, you'll know exactly what to look for!


What does 'Broad Spectrum' mean?

Broad Spectrum sunscreen means that it will protect you from BOTH of the sun's harmful rays - UVA (aging rays) and UVB (burning rays). Protecting yourself from both kinds will help prevent skin cancer, early skin aging, and sunburns. Always look for broad spectrum as some sunscreens will only protect against one kind of ray. 


What exactly is SPF?

SPF (sun protection factor) marks how well a sunscreen protects you from a sunburn. The number that follows SPF (SPF30, SPF50+, etc) tells you how much UVB light (burning rays) the sunscreen is filtering out from your skin.

For instance, here is how much light is filtered out from the following:

SPF15 - 93% of UVB rays are filtered out

SPF30 - 97% of UVB rays are filtered out

It's important to note that no sunscreen will block out 100% of sun rays, so make sure to accompany your broad spectrum SPF with UPF50+ clothing and by seeking shade. 


What is waterproof and water resistant sunscreen?

There is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. This is an old claim, and the FDA no longer allows manufacturers to claim that their sunscreen is waterproof because sweat and water will wash it away from your skin. 

However, there is water resistant sunscreen that is tested vigorously and will stay on your skin for 40 or 80 minutes even in the water.

There are two types:

Water Resistant: will stay on for 40 minutes in the water, then reapply

Very Water Resistant: will stay on for 80 minutes in the water, then reapply


Do I need to reapply if I'm not getting in the water?

Yup, over time sunscreen loses its effectiveness due to the sun's rays breaking them down and/or clumping. It's important to reapply every 2 hours, or sooner if you've been in the water, are sweating, or have just toweled off. 


What's the difference between chemical and mineral sunscreen?

Both kinds of sunscreen protects your skin differently and contains different active ingredients.

Chemical sunscreen: Absorbs the sun’s rays to protect your skin. Chemical sunscreens contain many possible active ingredients, including oxybenzone or avobenzene, which have been studied to show have negative effects on your body and the environment.

Mineral (physical) sunscreen: Sits on top of your skin and protects you by deflecting the sun’s rays. Mineral sunscreens contain active ingredients titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. These often leave a white cast on your skin because it acts as a barrier between your skin and the rays, so look for tinted or sheer mineral sunscreen if that bothers you.

Some sunscreens use a mixture of both types of active ingredients, so be sure to read the back of your sunscreen bottles to find which SPF is the right option for you.


What does 'Sport' mean on sunscreen?

Contrary to popular belief, the FDA has NOT defined the term 'sport' for sunscreen! If you see a 'sport' sunscreen, it usually means that the sunscreen will stay on wet skin for either 40 or 80 minutes (like we covered above). So if you have a sport sunscreen at home, look for the words 'water resistant' or 'very water resistant' as that will tell you how much you'll need to reapply.


What does 'Baby' mean on sunscreen?

Similar to 'sport' sunscreen, the FDA has NOT defined the term 'baby' when it comes to SPF. In this case, 'baby' sunscreens generally are mineral-based sunscreens that contain:

Titanium Dioxide

Zinc Oxide

These ingredients are known to be less irritative and generally better for babies. 


What does 'sensitive skin' mean on sunscreen?

Once again, the FDA has NOT defined the term 'sensitive skin' in SPF. Similar to baby sunscreen, 'sensitive skin' SPF normally means that there are no chemicals, fragrances, or active ingredients found in chemical sunscreens that can irritate more sensitive skin. The main ingredients will most likely be Titanium Dioxide and/or Zinc Oxide, which are minerals that sit on top of your skin to block out sun rays. 


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