GentleCure Blog

Sunscreen Label Confusion: Reading the Sunscreen Label

With the abundance of sunscreen options available on the market, understanding how to read a sunscreen label is crucial for effectively protecting your skin from harmful UV radiation. How do you know what to look for in sunscreen? From SPF to broad-spectrum coverage and water resistance, each element of a sunscreen label plays a vital role in safeguarding your skin against sun damage. Below, we’ll answer your questions about sunscreen labels, such as, “What does the number on the sunscreen label mean?” We’ll cover what to look for in sunscreen, empowering you to make informed decisions and prioritize sun safety. And if you find yourself having additional questions, then don’t hesitate to reach out to our team.

Reading Sunscreen Labels

  • Understanding SPF (Sun Protection Factor): So what does the number on sunscreen mean? What is SPF? SPF indicates the level of protection a sunscreen offers against UVB rays, which are primarily responsible for sunburn and skin cancer. The SPF number correlates with the amount of time it takes for UVB rays to redden the skin when using sunscreen compared to not using any sunscreen at all. For example, SPF 30 means it will take 30 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen. Experts recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for adequate protection.
  • Broad-Spectrum Coverage: Look for sunscreens labeled as “broad-spectrum,” indicating protection against both UVA and UVB rays. While UVB rays cause sunburn, UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, contributing to premature aging and increasing the risk of skin cancer. Broad-spectrum sunscreens provide comprehensive protection against both types of UV radiation.
  • Water Resistance: Sunscreen labels may also specify water resistance, indicating how long the product remains effective while swimming or sweating. Water resistance is typically labeled as either “40 minutes” or “80 minutes.” Keep in mind that no sunscreen is entirely waterproof, and reapplication is necessary after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.
  • Active Ingredients: So what should you look for in sunscreen? Pay attention to the active ingredients listed on the sunscreen label. Common active ingredients include zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, and oxybenzone, among others. These ingredients work by either absorbing or reflecting UV radiation, providing protection for your skin.
  • Usage Instructions: Sunscreen labels often provide instructions for proper application, including the recommended amount and frequency of use. It’s essential to apply sunscreen generously to all exposed skin areas and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming, sweating, or towel drying.

Additional Considerations:

  • Check the expiration date: Expired sunscreen may not provide adequate protection.
  • Consider your skin type: Choose a sunscreen formulation suitable for your skin type, whether it’s sensitive, oily, or acne-prone.
  • Avoid sunscreen sprays for young children: Spray sunscreens can pose inhalation risks, especially for children. Opt for lotions or sticks instead.

Why Should You Reapply Sunscreen? 

Understanding the need to reapply sunscreen is crucial for maintaining effective sun protection. Sunscreen has a limited duration of effectiveness on the skin, as the sun’s rays can degrade its protective properties over time. Here’s why it’s essential to reapply sunscreen:

  • Every 2 hours: Sunscreen gradually wears off due to factors like sweat, friction, and exposure to the elements. Reapplication every two hours helps ensure continuous coverage and protection against UV radiation.
  • After toweling off: Toweling off can remove sunscreen from the skin’s surface, diminishing its effectiveness. After drying off, it’s important to reapply sunscreen to maintain adequate protection.
  • When sweating: Sweating can compromise sunscreen coverage, leading to uneven or reduced protection. Reapplying sunscreen after sweating helps replenish lost product and reinforces sun protection, especially during outdoor activities or exercise.
  • After being in water: Water exposure can wash away sunscreen, reducing its efficacy. If using water-resistant sunscreen, it’s still necessary to reapply every 40 to 80 minutes, as indicated on the product label, to ensure continuous protection while swimming or engaging in water-based activities.

By adhering to these reapplication guidelines, you can maximize the effectiveness of sunscreen and minimize the risk of sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer. Prioritize sun safety by incorporating regular sunscreen reapplication into your outdoor routine, alongside other sun protection measures, such as seeking shade and wearing protective clothing.

What is Sport Sunscreen? 

When “sports” appears on sunscreen labels, it typically implies that the product is designed to remain effective on wet skin for either 40 or 80 minutes. To confirm, refer to the product label. Additionally, you may encounter terms like “water resistant” or “very water resistant.”

For optimal skin protection, it’s essential to reapply sports sunscreen under the following circumstances:

  • When sweating (every 40 or 80 minutes)
  • After towel drying
  • Following water exposure (or every 40 or 80 minutes)
  • Every 2 hours (if not sweating or in water)

By adhering to these guidelines, you can ensure consistent and reliable sun protection during outdoor activities and sports.

Learn More Preventative Measures with GentleCure™

Reading a sunscreen label doesn’t have to be complicated. By understanding the key components and considerations outlined on sunscreen labels, you can confidently select the right sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Remember to apply sunscreen generously, reapply as directed, and complement sun protection with other sun-safe practices, such as seeking shade and wearing protective clothing. You can learn more about skin cancer with our selection of blog posts detailing things like finding support when you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer, as well as why you should consider Image-Guided SRT over Mohs surgery.

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