How to read a sunscreen label and 8 claims you need to know

Pink Surf Clay Sunscreen Label

Understanding sun protection labels is not just important, it’s empowering. Sunscreen labels, with their crucial information such as the sun protection factor (SPF) and the level of protection against UVB rays, put you in control of your sun safety. They also indicate whether the product provides broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays, giving you the knowledge to make informed decisions about your sun protection routine.

Using sunscreens labelled as ‘broad spectrum’ doesn’t just ensure comprehensive protection, it provides peace of mind. These labels, along with specific instructions for application and reapplication, give you the confidence that you’re taking the right steps to protect your skin. By understanding and following these labels, you can make informed decisions about your sun protection routine and minimise the risk of sun damage.

1. Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) measures how well sunscreen can protect the skin from harmful UVB rays, which cause sunburn and contribute to skin cancer. The SPF number indicates the level of protection it provides compared to unprotected skin. For example, SPF 30 means that it will take 30 times longer for the skin to redden from UVB exposure compared to not wearing sunscreen.

It’s important to note that SPF primarily measures protection against UVB rays and not UVA rays, which can also cause skin damage. Therefore, it’s recommended to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

To ensure adequate protection, applly  generously and reapplied regularly, especially after swimming or sweating. Understanding SPF and its application is vital in maintaining proper sun protection and minimising the risk of sun damage.

SPF30+ indicates that the product has been tested and determined to provide a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. The “30+” symbolises that the SPF level is at least 30 but may be higher, offering adequate protection against UVB rays. Sun protection products with SPF30+ are designed to block a significant amount of UVB radiation, allowing individuals to stay in the sun without experiencing sunburn 30 times longer than if they were not wearing any sun protection. It’s essential to apply and reapply SPF30+ products generously and regularly as part of a comprehensive sun protection routine. SPF30+ indicates a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher but lower than SPF40.

SPF50+ indicates that this product has been tested and determined to provide a very high level of sun protection factor (SPF) of 50 or higher. The “50+” symbolises that the SPF level is at least 50 but may be higher, offering powerful protection against UVB rays. Sunscreens with SPF50+ are designed to block a significant amount of UVB radiation, allowing individuals to stay in the sun without experiencing sunburn 50 times longer than if they were not wearing sunscreen.

SPF50+ sunscreen is particularly beneficial for those with fair or sensitive skin or for prolonged sun exposure in intense sunlight. SPF50+ indicates a sun protection factor (SPF) of 50 or higher, emphasising that the actual SPF is above 50. SPF50+ is higher than SPF50 but lower than SPF60.

Testing the SPF Levels Claims of the SPF number can only be made based on the SPF testing conducted by an authorised regulatory body for sunscreen testing. This testing is crucial for accurately determining the level of protection that the sunscreen offers against UVB rays. It ensures that standardised testing methods support the SPF number displayed on the product and provides consumers with reliable information about the sunscreen’s effectiveness in blocking UVB radiation. It’s essential to rely on sunscreens that have undergone proper SPF testing to ensure that they deliver the level of protection indicated on the packaging.

Can any sun protection lotion provide provides 100% protection?

No sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s rays. Even those with the highest SPF ratings only block around 98% -99% of UVB rays. A SPF 100 sunscreen blocks approximately 99% of UVB rays, providing high protection against sunburn and reducing the risk of skin damage from the sun. It’s essential to use other sun protection measures alongside sunscreen, such as seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding peak sun hours, especially in very sunny or high-altitude environments.

2. UVA and UVB rays

UVA and UVB rays are both types of ultraviolet radiation that reach the earth from the sun. They differ in their wavelengths and the ways they affect the skin.

UVA rays:

– UVA rays have longer wavelengths and can penetrate deeper into the skin.

– They are the dominant tanning rays and can contribute to skin ageing and wrinkling.

– UVA rays are present at relatively consistent levels throughout the day and the year, even on cloudy days.

– They are linked to long-term skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer.

UVB rays:

– UVB rays have shorter wavelengths and primarily affect the skin’s outer layer.

– They are the primary cause of sunburn and also contribute to skin cancer risk.

– UVB rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and their intensity varies by season, location, and weather conditions.

Both UVA and UVB rays can damage the skin, so it’s important to use broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect against both types of radiation and minimise the risk of sun damage.

Testing for UVA and UVB: It’s crucial to emphasise that claims of broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection can only be made if the sunscreen has been tested and verified by an authorised regulatory body for sunscreen testing. These tests are essential in determining the sunscreen’s ability to provide comprehensive protection against both UVA and UVB rays, ensuring that the product meets established standards for sun protection. When choosing sunscreen, it’s essential to look for products that have been rigorously tested and approved for their broad-spectrum protection to ensure adequate sun safety.

3. Water-resistant vs Very Water-Resistant sunscreen

Water-resistant and very water-resistant sunscreen differ in their ability to withstand water exposure.


– Water-resistant sunscreen protects for up to 40 minutes in water.

– It is suitable for activities such as light swimming and sweating.

– Reapplication is necessary after 40 minutes of water exposure or sweating.

Very water-resistant:

– Very water-resistant products protects for up to 80 minutes in water.

– It is ideal for activities involving prolonged water exposure, such as swimming or water sports.

– Reapplication is necessary after 80 minutes of water exposure or sweating.

Both types of sunscreen are designed to maintain their efficacy during water-related activities. Still, very water-resistant sunscreen offers extended protection for longer periods of water exposure. To ensure continuous protection, it’s essential to follow the specific reapplication guidelines for each type of sunscreen.

Testing for Water Resistance: It’s important to note that claims of water resistance or very water resistance can only be made if an authorised regulatory body has tested the sunscreen for sunscreen testing. These tests determine the duration and level of water resistance that the sunscreen can provide, ensuring that the claims are based on standardised and validated assessments. When selecting water-resistant or very water-resistant sunscreen, it’s crucial to look for products that have undergone proper testing to support their effectiveness during water-related activities.

What is the difference between water resistant and waterproof?

The difference between water resistant and waterproof lies in their level of protection against water exposure.

Water-resistant means that the product can resist water to some degree, but it is not entirely impervious to water. For example, a water-resistant sunscreen can maintain its effectiveness for a particular duration when exposed to water, such as 40 or 80 minutes, according to its designation.

On the other hand, waterproof implies a higher level of water resistance, indicating that the product can withstand water exposure for a more extended period without losing its effectiveness. However, it is essential to note that the term “waterproof” has been replaced with “water-resistant” in many regulations and standards due to the difficulty in achieving complete waterproofness.

To maintain adequate protection, it’s essential to follow the specific reapplication guidelines provided for water-resistant or waterproof products, especially after swimming, sweating, or towelling off.

Are all sunscreens water-resistant?

Not all sunscreens are water-resistant. While many sunscreens are formulated to be water resistant, offering a level of protection during water exposure, it’s important to check the product labelling or description for specific information about water resistance. Products that are designated as water resistant will indicate a particular duration for which the sunscreen remains effective in water, such as 40 or 80 minutes, in accordance with regulatory guidelines. Sunscreens that are labelled as water resistant may provide a different level of protection during water activities, making it crucial for individuals to choose the appropriate sunscreen based on their specific sun exposure conditions and activities.

UPF stands for “Ultraviolet Protection Factor

UPF stands for “Ultraviolet Protection Factor,” and it measures the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that penetrates fabric and reaches the skin. UPF protection indicates how effectively a fabric shields the skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun. Similar to SPF for sunscreen, UPF ratings for fabrics signify their ability to block UV radiation. Fabrics with a higher UPF rating provide:

Greater protection against the sun’s harmful rays.

Helping to reduce the risk of sunburn.

Skin damage.

Long-term health effects.

UPF clothing and accessories offer an additional layer of protection against UV radiation, making them a valuable component of sun safety practices.

4. Dermatologist Approved

Dermatologist-approved sunscreen” typically means that the sunscreen product has been evaluated, tested, or recommended by dermatologists, who are medical professionals specialising in skin health. When a sunscreen is labelled as “dermatologist approved,” it implies that it has undergone scrutiny by dermatological experts and is considered safe and effective for use on the skin. This approval provides reassurance to consumers regarding the product’s formulation, ingredients, and suitability for various skin types, including sensitive, acne-prone, or allergy-prone skin. Choosing a dermatologist-approved sunscreen can help individuals make informed decisions about sun protection and skin health.

Testing for dermatologist approval: Claims of ‘dermatologist-approved sunscreen’ can only be made if the sunscreen has successfully passed the skin irritancy patch testing conducted by an authorised regulatory body for sunscreen testing. This testing process assesses the potential for skin irritation or allergic reactions when the sunscreen is applied to the skin. Only after meeting the requirements of this rigorous testing and receiving approval from authorised regulatory bodies can a sunscreen product legitimately claim to be ‘dermatologist approved.’ Consumers can have confidence in the safety and efficacy of sunscreen products that have undergone and passed this dermatologist-approved testing process.

5. Reef Safe

Reef-safe sunscreen refers to sunscreens that are formulated to be free from certain chemicals that are known to be harmful to coral reefs and marine ecosystems. These sunscreens avoid the use of oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have been identified as contributing to coral bleaching and overall reef degradation. Reef-safe sunscreens are designed to minimise the environmental impact on marine life while still providing effective sun protection for individuals. By choosing reef-safe sunscreen products, consumers can contribute to the preservation of delicate marine ecosystems and minimise their ecological footprint when enjoying water activities in ocean environments.

6. Paraben Free

Claiming that sunscreen is “paraben free” means that the product does not contain parabens, a preservative commonly used in cosmetic and personal care products. Parabens prevent the growth of bacteria and mould in skincare formulations. By boasting a “paraben-free” label, sunscreen indicates that it is formulated without the use of parabens.

This claim is often made to appeal to individuals who prefer to avoid certain synthetic preservatives due to personal preferences or concerns about their potential impact on health and the environment. By choosing a paraben-free skincare, consumers can opt for a product that aligns with their preferences for ingredient safety and formulation.

7. Sulphate Free

Sulphate-free skincare is important because sulphates can be harsh and irritating to the skin. Sulphates are known to strip the skin of its natural oils and moisture, which can lead to dryness and irritation, especially for people with sensitive skin. By using a sulphate-free products, you can help protect your skin without the potential side effects of sulphates.

8. Fragrance-Free

Choosing fragrance-free products can be beneficial for several reasons:

  1. Sensitive skin: Fragrances in skincare products can potentially irritate sensitive skin or trigger allergic reactions in some individuals. Opting for fragrance-free can reduce the risk of skin irritation, making it suitable for sensitive skin types.
  2. Avoiding potential allergens: Fragrances used in skincare products may contain allergens that can cause adverse skin reactions in some people. By choosing fragrance-free products, you can minimise the risk of exposure to potential allergens and reduce the likelihood of allergic skin reactions.
  3. Enhanced compatibility: Fragrance-free cosmetics is often formulated to be more compatible with a wide range of skin types, including sensitive, acne-prone, or reactive skin. This can make it a suitable choice for individuals who prefer products with minimal potential for skin irritation.
  4. Reduced scent interference: For those who prefer unscented products to avoid conflicting or overpowering scents, especially when wearing other scented skincare or cosmetic products, fragrance-free products offers a neutral scent profile. This can provide a more comfortable and relaxing experience, making it a versatile option for daily use.

Overall, choosing fragrance-free products can help minimise the risk of skin irritation, accommodate sensitive skin types, and provide a more neutral option for individuals who prefer unscented skincare products.

For more blog posts about sun protection click here: https://oceanfreedom.com/ You can shop Ocean Freedom’s range of Sunscreen South Africa and in the UK. South Africa:https://oceanfreedom.com/shop/ UK: https://bling2o.co.uk/collections/ocean-freedom  



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