UVA, UVB, SPF. Reading a sunscreen label can be like looking at a can of alphabet soup. Sunscreen labels now contain more information that can keep your family protected from sun damage. Here is what you should know.


When buying sunscreen, make sure the label says “broad spectrum.” This means that the ingredients protect skin from ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) sun rays. UVB and UVA rays can both cause sunburn, skin cancer and wrinkles. People who spend a lot of time in the sun without protecting their skin will get wrinkled skin earlier than if they had stayed out of the sun.

Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 to 50 (higher than 50 is not better). Make sure it is water resistant. No product is waterproof. After being in the water, sweating or towel drying, apply more sunscreen. The label on the bottle explains how often to reapply the sunscreen.

Also listed are the active ingredients that block sun damage. The active ingredient can protect the skin in one of two ways. A chemical ingredient absorbs UV radiation. Examples are dioxybenzone, methyl anthranilate, oxybenzone and sulisobenzone. A physical active ingredient reflects and absorbs sun before it can harm skin. Examples include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Zinc oxide is the only ingredient that gives “extensive” protection against both UVA and UVB, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Even if your sunscreen is broad spectrum, it does not protect skin from all harmful rays. Children are at higher risk because they have more years ahead of them. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to teach children to protect their skin from the sun by wearing sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and staying in the shade. Children who learn about sun protection at a young age can stay healthy for a lifetime.

© 2013 American Academy of Pediatrics. This Parent Plus may be freely copied and distributed with proper attribution.