How to Read a Sunscreen Label

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover—but you can judge a sunscreen by its label! That's because recent FDA requirements for sunscreen labels have been strictly defined so that everyone can clearly understand what their sunscreen is promising. But first...

Let's Talk About UV and Sun Protection

What are UV Rays? UV rays are sunlight comprised of two types of harmful ultraviolet rays—UVA rays and UVB rays—and you need protection from both.

UVA Rays

UVA rays are known to lead to early skin aging, and they can also contribute to skin cancer.

Difference between UVA and UVB Rays

UVA rays go deep into the layers of skin.

UVB Rays

UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn, and they are known to cause damage to skin cells.

Difference between UVA and UVB Rays

UVB rays penetrate the surface of skin.

4 Things on a Sunscreen Label

While UVB rays account for the majority of skin damage—including certain skin cancers, sunburn and skin aging—both UVA and UVB rays can contribute to skin cancer and cause damage to skin. With that in mind...

Here's what to look for on a sunscreen label:


Broad Spectrum Sunscreen


SPF 15 or Higher





Click on the numbers on this label to learn what to look for!

1. Broad Spectrum Sunscreen

In recent years, the FDA has instituted a new test to ensure you are protected from both UVA and UVB rays. Only sunscreens that pass this test are allowed to be called Broad Spectrum. If a sunscreen doesn't say Broad Spectrum, then it may not provide sufficient UVA protection, and has not been shown to help protect against skin aging and skin cancer.

2. SPF 15 or Higher

Finding out what SPF is best for your skin should start with looking for a Broad Spectrum SPF 15 or higher. Some drugstores still carry sunscreen lotions with SPFs ranging from SPF 2 to SPF 14. However, if you look closely, you'll find that these sunscreens also contain an additional warning that the product has not been shown to help prevent skin cancer and early skin aging.

At NEUTROGENA®, our experts recommend a daily Broad Spectrum SPF of at least 30 to provide daily protection.

3. Photostable

Look for a sunscreen that provides "photostable" protection against harmful sun exposure (UV rays). Photostable means that the sun protection will hold up against damaging UVA and UVB rays, instead of breaking down and deteriorating as some sunscreens do.

If you can't find the word "photostable" on the label, look for sunscreens that include HELIOPLEX® or PURESCREEN® technologies. Products that include these technologies are proven to be photostable.

4. Water‐Resistant

As of 2011, sunscreens no longer use the terms "sweat proof" and "water proof".

To help you understand the level of protection offered, the FDA has required all water‐resistant sunscreens to carry the term "Water‐resistant" on label, while specifying the amount of effectiveness time; either 40 or 80 minutes. Always remember to reapply after 40/80 minutes of swimming, immediately after towel drying or every 2 hours for maximum protection.

Finally, don't forget...

No matter what the label says, sunscreen only works well when it's applied correctly. Studies reveal that only 1 in 5 people wear sunscreen daily, despite the fact they know the risk of sun exposure. And those that do wear sunscreen tend to use far less than the recommended amount of 1‐ounce per application—about the size of a golf ball—for the whole body. So make sure to apply enough, and reapply every 2 hours or more if needed.