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Decoding Sunscreen Labels

All of the abbreviations and terms on sunscreen bottles can make buying sunscreen confusing. Use this information to help you interpret the labels:

  • SPF - Sun Protection Factor and the number next to it refer to the degree to which a sunscreen can protect the skin from sunburn. The higher the number, the more sunburn protection the sunscreen can provide. You should use a minimum of SPF 15 and reapply often.

  • UV or UVR - Ultraviolet radiation from the sun that can cause sunburn, wrinkling, premature aging, and skin cancer and may also interfere with the body's immune system. Look for "broad spectrum" sunscreens that protect from the two types of UV rays.

  • UVA - Ultraviolet A is longer wavelength UV radiation that can penetrate and damage the deeper layers of skin even if the skin feels cool and shows no signs of burning

  • UVB - Ultraviolet B is the shorter wavelength UV radiation associated with sunburn and other skin damage.

  • Water Resistant - These sunscreens stay on the skin longer even if they get wet from pool water, ocean water or sweat. But water resistant doesn't mean waterproof. Sunscreens with this label still need to be reapplied. Check the label for reapplication times.