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Skincare: How to decode a sunscreen labels


How To Decode Sunscreen Labels ?

Did you know that today's sunscreens can help prevent sunburn, skin cancer, and premature aging of the skin like wrinkles and age spots? 

Still, with so many sunscreens available, it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which sunscreen provides the best protection for you and your family.

Sun protection products

Sun protection products (creams, gels, oils or aerosols) are cosmetic products intended to protect against the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun (UVA and UVB) if they are applied in accordance with the instructions given on the packaging.

These products partially protect from the sun and do not extend the duration of sun exposure.

FDA Meaning

Sunscreen can protect you from the sun's harmful ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.

How Much Sunscreen Protects You From Sunburn. It is important to know that no sunscreen can filter out 100% of the sun's UVB rays.

UVA, UVB, make the difference!

Tanning is a defensive reaction of the skin, which opposes a filter to the penetration of solar radiation. But this filter does not have unlimited capacity.

Solar radiation is made up of, among other things, ultraviolet B rays (UVB rays) and ultraviolet A rays (UVA rays). “Sunburn” is mainly caused by UVB rays. UVA rays are responsible for premature aging of the skin.

Although UVB rays are the main factor in skin cancer, UVA rays play a significant role in their appearance.

Sunscreen labels

What is water resistant sunscreen?

FDA Meaning: How Long Sunscreen Will Stay On Wet Skin.

Even if your skin remains dry while using a water resistant sunscreen, you will need to reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours.

To continue to protect the skin from the sun outdoors, authors should reapply sunscreen: Every 2 hours.

Each of them protects your skin differently and contains different active ingredients.

The different types of sun protection: which one to choose?

There are two main categories of sun protection offered by cosmetics depending on the nature of the filters and their mode of action; all must be expressly authorized by the regulations:

Organic or chemical filters which act by absorption of UV radiation; mineral filters, namely titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which act by reflection of UV rays: these do not penetrate into the epidermis.

Organic or inorganic filters can be present in nanometric form. The mention [nano] must then be appended to the name of the substance in the mandatory list of ingredients on the packaging.

These different filters, chemical or mineral, nano or not, can be combined with each other by manufacturers to optimize efficiency.

Degree of protection: read the label!

First of all: Claims such as "full screen" or "full protection" should no longer be used. Although common, they are false because no sun product offers complete protection against ultraviolet radiation.

Against UVB rays: the sun protection factor (SPF) or protection index (IP) is an essential criterion of choice. It corresponds to the delaying effect of the product compared to the aggression of the sun.

The product category followed by a number corresponding to the "sun protection factor (SPF)" is used to assess its effectiveness. The higher the SPF, the greater the photo-protective action.

The European Commission has proposed grouping sun protection factors together to keep only eight different numbers on the labels. However, not all labeling has been changed and the old sun protection factors have sometimes been retained.

Here is a summary of the basic differences:

Chemical sunscreen: Protects you by absorbing the sun's rays.

As long as the sunscreen offers all of the following, it can effectively protect you from the sun: SPF 30 or higher.

When you see the word “sport” on sunscreen, it usually means that the sunscreen will stay on damp skin for 40 or 80 minutes.

You will need to reapply the sports sunscreen: when you sweat. Like the word "sport," the FDA has not defined this term for sunscreens.

When you see the term "baby" on the sunscreen, it means that the sunscreen contains only these active ingredients: Titanium dioxide.

The AAD: Sunscreen for infants and children

The AAD recommends the following when using sunscreen on babies and toddlers: 

Children under 6 months of age; protect their skin from the sun by keeping them in the shade and dressing them in long-sleeved shirts, pants, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.

Children 6 months and older: Use a sunscreen containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which is best for the sensitive skin of infants and toddlers.

Keep children in the shade and dress them in clothes that protect their skin from the sun, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants and wide-brimmed hats.

If a sunscreen label says “sensitive skin” it often means that the sunscreen: Contains one or both of these active ingredients ( titanium dioxide and zinc oxide).

Contains NO fragrance, oils, PABA or active ingredients found in chemical sunscreens, which may irritate sensitive skin.

If a sunscreen label says it contains insect repellant, the AAD recommends looking for another sunscreen.

Find more on a study published in JAMA Dermatology says that fewer than half of the patients at a dermatology clinic knew the meaning of terms like “broad spectrum” and “sun protection factor.” 




Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament et des produits de santé (ANSM)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration