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Shedding light on the label

Need-to-knows about sunscreen

Sunscreen is a must. But, navigating your choices may leave you confused. To make your choices easier, it helps to know a little about the labeling.

The latest lowdown on labels

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has labeling guidelines External Site to make it easier for consumers to choose safe, effective formulas. Here's what you need to know.

Broad spectrum SPF

Broad spectrum SPF (sun protection factor) sunscreens are proven to block both sunburn-causing ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and the ultraviolet A (UVA) rays that trigger sunburn, age spots, wrinkles and skin cancer. If you don't see "broad spectrum" on the label, you're not protected against the aging and cancer-causing impact of UVA rays.


No sun protection product completely blocks ultraviolet rays — and that's why "sunscreen" recently replaced "sunblock" on all new labels. Remember to reapply even high-SPF sunscreens every two hours.


Even so-called "waterproof" sunscreens lose their protective punch after exposure to water or sweat. New labels tell you if a product is water-resistant and for how long. If you've been swimming or sweating, plan to reapply once you're done with the activity.

Warning statement

SPF sunscreens without broad spectrum protection and broad spectrum products with an SPF under 15 carry a warning outlining the increased skin cancer and skin aging risks that come from time in the sun. Labels must also mention that these products prevent sunburn, but do not protect against skin cancer or early aging.

Manufacturers must follow these labeling requirements for sunscreens as well as cosmetics, moisturizers and lip balms containing suncreen.