What Labels on Sunscreen Bottles Really Mean

Knowing how to speak sunscreen is important for protecting your skin

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To ensure the best sun protection, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting when you pick up a bottle of sunscreen. “Much of what you see on the label is marketing, which can make it difficult to decode what’s truly meaningful,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. But other terms have regulated definitions set by the Food and Drug Administration. Here, what some of the most common terms on your sunscreen bottle really mean.

Other Common Terms on Sunscreen Labels

This chemical UV filter is often flagged as being potentially harmful to ocean life. Many sunscreens have been reformulated to remove it.
This isn’t a regulated term, so you don’t know what the product was tested for or how extensive the testing was.
You’ll find this on products marketed to people who want a sunscreen that stays put during vigorous outdoor activity. The term isn’t regulated by the FDA.
The FDA doesn’t make a distinction between sunscreens for babies or children and those for adults. They all contain the same active ingredients and must meet the same criteria for safety and effectiveness
This is not a regulated term, but it’s safe to say that if used properly, any broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher will help to protect you from skin aging and skin cancer.
@consumerreports Know how to speak sunscreen as we explain what some of the labels on sunscreen bottles really mean. #sunscreen #sun #labels #healthtok ♬ original sound - Consumer Reports

Top-Rated Sunscreens From CR's Tests

Here are some of the sunscreens that rated high in CR’s tests, listed in alphabetical order.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the July 2022 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

Sally Wadyka

Sally Wadyka is a freelance writer who contributes to Consumer Reports, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, Yoga Journal, and the Food Network on topics such as health, nutrition, and wellness.