So, which sunscreen is best for you? There are more choices than ever. And the bottles are a mishmash of government-regulated terms and unregulated—and downright sketchy—marketing claims, which can confuse even the most conscientious consumer.
Listed below are just a few key terms to look out for and how to ensure that you’re giving your skin the best protection:
What it means: Any sunscreen bearing these words is required to have passed a stringent test showing that it protects against both UVB rays (the kind that cause sunburn) and UVA rays (which are responsible for skin cancer and early aging).
What you need to know: Make sure your sunscreen specifies broad-spectrum UVA protection as well as UVB. The FDA recommends you go for SPF 15 or higher.
“Reduces Risk of Skin Cancer”
What it means: Not much. This term has been unregulated. But as of 2012, only products with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection, with an SPF 15 or higher, can bear this claim, according to the FDA.
What you need to know: It's not a silver bullet against skin cancer: Cover up if you’ll be outside during peak times and reapply your sunscreen often.
What it means: That you're being duped. All sunscreen must be reapplied every two hours when you're outside to shield you from the sun.
What you need to know: Choosing a sunscreen that's both broad spectrum and water resistant is more important than this vague phrase.
What it means: This term has been something of a free-for-all for marketers. After 2012, you the words “waterproof” or “sweatproof” stopped appearing on bottles; the FDA has ruled that no sunscreen is truly waterproof. Sunscreens can, however, be labeled “water resistant” if they meet certain criteria. Additionally, they have to specify for how long they’re water resistant—either 40 or 80 minutes—and must provide directions on the bottle for when to reapply.
What you need to know: To make sure you’re covered, reapply your sunscreen at least once every two hours if you're in the water or engaging in sweaty activities, says Dr. Arielle Kauvar, M.D., director of New York Laser and Skin Care Center.
“Enriched with Antioxidants”
What it means: Almost anything—there’s no legal definition.
What you need to know: Antioxidants have been shown to combat free-radical damage—that’s why docs recommend eating plenty of them, as well as applying them directly to your skin. Sunscreens that claim to provide “antioxidant defense” may help your skin fight sun damage, but there's no way for you to know for sure. "It's unlikely that your sunscreen will have the same degree of protection as an antioxidant serum," says Dr. Kauvar. If you want serious antioxidant power, she recommends using both.
What it means: This is yet another unregulated promise that implies protection when you’re outside, sweating up a storm.
What you need to know: “Typically the term is used when the sunscreen is water resistant,” says Dr. Kauvar—but check the label. And once the new regulations are enforced, be sure to pay attention to whether it’s effective is for 40 or 80 minutes. Naturally, you’ll have to reapply accordingly.
This season, enjoy the sun, but enjoy it safely.
Important Notice: Information provided is for general background purposes and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment by a trained professional. You should always consult your community pharmacist or physician about any health care questions you may have, especially before trying a new medication, diet, fitness program, or approach to health care issues.