Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Outdoor First Aid

Understanding Sunscreen Labels

Here's how to make sense of your sunscreen.

Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.

A quick lesson in understanding label-ese.

You hear the advice all the time: “Read the label.” Great. But what if the label seems like it’s written in Chinese? To make sense of the words printed on sunscreen bottles, here’s the translation:

PABA FREE: Marketing lingo; PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) is an ingredient that was used in the first generation of sunscreens but is no longer used because it irritated skin.

ALL-DAY PROTECTION: More marketing. Translation: “apply early and reapply often.”

BROAD SPECTRUM: Indicates that a sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays; nearly all do nowadays.

SPF (SUN PROTECTION FACTOR): A number that measures the amount of protection; SPF 30 is best for most uses, and SPF 15 is considered the minimum you should use.

SWEATPROOF: Won’t clog pores and come off when you sweat; doesn’t mean rubproof, however.

WATER RESISTANT/WATERPROOF: Water-resistant means the sunscreen will tolerate up to 40 minutes of water exposure; waterproof means 80 minutes. Some sunscreens tout protection as long as 6 or 8 hours, but the FDA doesn’t recognize such claims.