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Decoding Sunscreen Labels: What You Need to Know for Sun-Safe Skin

Sun’s out, SPF’s on! 

 How to Choose the Right Sunscreen for Your Needs

Choosing the right sunscreen can feel overwhelming with so many choices out there.

Let this guide simplify things for you. Here’s what you should consider before you buy yourself sunscreen.

Disclosure: Please note this post might contain affiliate links. This means I may earn a commission if you purchase through the links, at no extra cost to you. Know that I only recommend products that I’ve used personally or believe will add value to my readers.

Broad Spectrum 

Broad Spectrum 

UVA rays can go deep into the inner layers of your skin and can break down collagen and elastin. This can make your skin age earlier.

Plus, it can lead to pigmentation issues, uneven skin tone, and increase the risk of skin cancer. On the other hand, UVB rays can cause sunburn, making your skin inflamed, red, and painful.

So, you need to protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. This is where broad-spectrum sunscreen comes in.

Even if a sunscreen has a high SPF but isn’t broad-spectrum, it may not provide sufficient protection against UVA rays.

Without the broad-spectrum label, the SPF number alone doesn’t give you a clue about how good it is at protecting your skin from UVA rays.


What Does SPF Rating Mean?

SPF on sunscreens stands for Sun Protection Factor.

The SPF number tells how well the sunscreen can protect your skin from UV rays.

FDA says- “SPF is a measure of how much solar energy (UV radiation) is required to produce sunburn on protected skin (i.e., in the presence of sunscreen) relative to the amount of solar energy required to produce sunburn on unprotected skin.”

Bursting Myth 1

Many think that the SPF number means how long you can stay in the sun without burning. But that’s not quite right.

SPF number tells the level of protection against UV rays, not the time of sun exposure.

The sun’s strength differs throughout the day. The amount of sun exposure for 1 hour at 9 am equals that for 15 minutes at 1 pm.  So the concept of sun exposure time is irrelevant.

Choose SPF 30 or higher in your sunscreen for optimal protection. SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays, SPF 50 blocks 98%, and SPF 100 blocks 99%. 

Bursting Myth 2

Sunscreens with SPF above 50+ are tricky. They might give you a false sense of security.

According to the FDA, these high SPF products might not only promise too much protection; but may also expose your skin to more UVA rays. This can increase the risk of skin cancer.

High SPF sunscreens prioritize UVB protection over UVA. And the truth is SPF above 60 offers little extra protection compared to SPF 50. So you don’t need them.

Another thing is high SPF sunscreens may not suit all skin types. Because these can stay on your skin for longer and can clog the pores.

PA Rating

What is PA Rating?

The next thing you should check before buying sunscreen is the PA rating. The PA index in sunscreen stands for Protection Grade of UVA.

And it tells you how good the sunscreen is at protecting your skin from UVA rays.

This rating system is mostly used in Asia and Europe, while the US mainly uses the SPF rating.

Let me decode the PA ratings:

  • PA+: Low UVA protection.
  • PA++: Moderate UVA protection.
  • PA+++: High UVA protection.
  • PA++++: Very high UVA protection.

Go for sunscreens with at least a PA++ rating, ideally PA+++ or PA++++, especially for daily use.

Also, remember that SPF and PA ratings work together to provide your skin the broad-spectrum protection.

You need sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher with the right PA rating.

Sunscreen Filters

Sunscreen Filters- Physical vs Chemical vs Hybrid

The next thing is sunscreen filters.

There are two types of sunscreen filters, physical and chemical. The difference is how they work to prevent UV damage.

Mineral Sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens are also known as physical sunscreens. They sit on your skin’s surface and form a protective barrier that reflects UV rays. 

They contain mineral ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.


  • Gives immediate UV protection. You don’t need to wait after applying.
  • Safe for all skin types.
  • Suits even if your skin is sensitive.


  • Could be thicker.
  • It may not blend easily. Though the formulations are improving.
  • May leave a white cast.

Chemical Sunscreens

These sunscreens contain ingredients such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, homosalate, and more. 

These chemicals absorb UV radiation and convert it into heat. The heat is then released from your skin.


  • You’ll enjoy how it blends into your skin.
  • No white cast.


  • May not suit sensitive skin or certain skin conditions like eczema or rosacea.
  • Some chemical sunscreen filters may not agree with everyone.
  • You need to wait at least 20 minutes to get sun protection after application.

Hybrid Sunscreens

Some sunscreens have both mineral and chemical sunscreen filters. These are known as hybrid sunscreens. 

Personally, I love these types as they feel so good on my skin (my skin type is normal). I also enjoy the formulations of these sunscreens as well as how they blend into my skin. 

These two are my favorite sunscreens I’ve used so far.

Skin Type And Skin Condition

Skin Type And Skin Condition

Picking the right texture is also important while choosing a sunscreen. And it totally depends on your skin type. 

Oily Skin

Picking the right texture makes you feel comfortable after applying sunscreen and prevents skin issues.

For oily skin, you might feel greasy after applying sunscreen if you choose the wrong one.

Go for lightweight options like gel or water-based formulas. And it should be non-greasy with a matte finish. 

Also, make sure that they’re non-comedogenic to avoid clogging pores.


  • Thick or creamy sunscreens. 
  • Also, stay away from oil-based formulas to prevent clogged pores and breakouts.

Dry Skin

If your skin is dry your skin will love creamy formulas.

It’s even better if it has hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and glycerin for a moisture boost.


  • Matte formula as these can further dry out your dry skin.
  • Avoid greasy formulas that can feel uncomfortable. 

Combination Skin

Go for gel or water-based sunscreens. They get absorbed fast and don’t cause trouble in the oily areas. 

Look for hydrating ingredients and make sure that it’s non-comedogenic for balanced care.

If your skin is sensitive, go for mineral sunscreens. 

Skin Condition

Sensitive Skin

These are typically non-irritating. Also make sure that they are fragrance-free and hypoallergenic to reduce the risk of allergies. 

And, always pick a non-comedogenic formula to prevent pore clogging.



You should also check if the sunscreen blends well with the skin.

If it doesn’t, you might end up with white patches, which can be frustrating and make you hate using sunscreen.

Online reviews can help you understand how well a particular sunscreen blends.

Usually, chemical and hybrid sunscreens blend easily and don’t leave a white cast.

However, mineral sunscreens tend to be thicker and may appear white, especially on darker skin tones. However, some brands offer mineral sunscreens that tackle this issue.

Here are some affordable options for you.

While choosing a tinted sunscreen, make sure the shade of the sunscreen is close to your skin tone.

Your Budget

This is often overlooked, but it’s crucial.

Your budget matters because sunscreen isn’t a one-time investment. You need it more often.

There are dozens of sunscreens available in the skincare market for every skin type and budget. So, choose the one that fits your budget best.

Water Resistance

If you sweat a lot or plan to swim, it’s important to check if the sunscreen is water resistant.

Otherwise, it’ll wash off, leaving your skin unprotected. 

So, go for a water-resistant sunscreen to keep your skin safe in these situations.

Final Thoughts

Sunscreen is the most important of your whole daytime skincare routine.

Now you know how to read sunscreen labels and what to check before buying sunscreen.

Remember, using sunscreen daily is the key to keep your skin protected and healthy. And, don’t forget to reapply!

Image Source: Instagram @deepikapadukone

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