🧴What ‘SPF’ and the numbers next to them mean on sunscreen bottles, sprays

Consumer Reports helps you decode system

No matter how or when you’re spending time outside, it’s important to wear sunscreen. But how do you know which is best? Sunscreen labels can be confusing, which is why Consumer Reports is helping to decode those tubes and bottles so you can protect your skin. Scan a sunscreen bottle and your head may spin from all the different labels -“SPF,” “Sport” and “Reef Safe” are among the more common. But, what do they all mean?

No matter how or when you’re spending time outside, it’s important to wear sunscreen.

But how do you know which is best? Sunscreen labels can be confusing, which is why Consumer Reports is helping to decode those tubes and bottles so you can protect your skin.

Scan a sunscreen bottle and your head may spin from all the different labels -“SPF,” “Sport” and “Reef Safe” are among the more common. But, what do they all mean?

Labels that are most important: “Broad Spectrum.”

“Broad Spectrum” means that that sunscreen will protect against both UVA rays - which are responsible for skin cancer and skin aging - and UVB rays - which are responsible for sunburn and contribute to skin cancer,” said Consumer Reports Editor Trisha Calvo.

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Also important, SPF - which stands for “sun protection factor” - and is a measure of how well a sunscreen protects against sunburn.

But what do the different numbers next to it mean? An SPF 100 does not provide twice as much protection as an SPF 50. Instead, SPF 100 blocks 99 percent of the sun’s burning UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks 98 percent and SPF 30 blocks 97 percent.

Sunscreens labeled “Water Resistant,” means it remains effective for the time stated on the bottle when you’re swimming or sweating.

Take terms like “Reef Safe” and “Sport.” Neither is a regulated term. Same goes for “Dermatologist Tested.”

“Some of the labels you see on sunscreens are just for marketing purposes and may not mean what you think they do,” said Calvo.

Remember that no matter what sunscreen you choose, what really matters is how you apply it.

For lotions you should use about a teaspoon per body part or area not covered by clothing, and for sprays, apply enough that your skin glistens, then rub it in.

One chemical some worry about is oxybenzone, and you might actually see sunscreens labeled “No Oxybenzone.” But Consumer Reports says that many sunscreens have in fact been reformulated to no longer contain oxybenzone.