Do you find sunscreen shopping a bit confusing? Between choosing the right SPF level and determining the difference between sweat-proof, water-proof and water-resistant, the whole ordeal can seem next to impossible. But recent FDA guidelines are trying to minimize the confusion (and effort needed on your part) in picking the right protection. Here’s what you need to know:
How sunscreens work: Think of sunscreens as your skin’s personal umbrella against UV radiation. The sunscreen acts as a chemical barrier that absorbs or reflects the sun’s harmful rays—UVB rays are primarily responsible for causing sunburns and UVA rays contribute to sunburn, skin cancer and skin aging (like wrinkles). Currently, sunscreens labeled with SPF protect against UVB rays; those that pass FDA testing and are labeled with broad spectrum protection will help shield against both types of UV rays.
What SPF you should be using: The FDA recommends looking for over-the-counter sunscreens with broad spectrum protection and SPF values of 15 or higher—only those will protect against both UV rays (with additional sun protection measures such as sitting in the shade). If you’re fair-skinned, don’t automatically grab the sunscreen with the highest SPF. The FDA hasn’t found evidence that SPF values over 50 provide any additional value. SPF values lower than 15 can only claim to help prevent against sunburn (not skin cancer and aging).