News | Published July 9, 2013 | Written by Camille Brown, licensed aesthetician

What do sunscreen labels really mean?

When you go to the store, there are shelves full of different types of sunscreen. You want to get the best kind to protect your skin, but how do you know what kind to purchase? The FDA has recently mandated a “final rule” for sunscreen formulations and labeling provisions to help consumers select and use sunscreens appropriately. 

Look for a sunscreen that has “broad spectrum” and “SPF 15” (or higher) on its label. Under the new regulations, all labels that include these two phrases are sunscreen products that protect against types of sun-induced skin damage. The back of products with broad spectrum protection will also list that they not only protect against sunburn, but, if used as directed, can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early signs of aging. If the sunscreen does not have this listed, then you will not be protecting yourself from all harmful ultraviolet rays.

Additionally, the FDA made the following requirements that you can look for on sunscreen labels:

  • Sunscreen products that are not broad spectrum or that are broad spectrum with SPF values from 2 -14 will have a warning label stating: “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, skin cancer or early skin aging.”
  • Sunscreens cannot be claimed as “waterproof” or “sweat proof” or be called a “sunblock.” It’s important to remember that sunscreens are not waterproof or sweat proof and will wear off over time, leaving you exposed to UV damage.
  • Sunscreen product labels must list how long a user can expect to get the declared SPF level of protection while swimming or sweating. Labels will either state 40 minutes or 80 minutes. It’s important to follow these guidelines and reapply when applicable.
  • Also, formulations cannot exceed an SPF 50+ as no data has demonstrated that SPF higher than 50+ is more effective.

In the end, you have many types sunscreen to choose from; however, one constant remains – UVA rays are present all year long, and the proper use of SPF can ward off premature aging and possible cancers.

For more information on protecting your skin and keeping it healthy, visit or