Understanding the labels on your sunscreen

How many times have you found yourself confused when buying a sunscreen? Do the terms and terminologies on the labels intimidate you? Well, I used to be. So like everyone, I decided to google and came across a ton of articles which gave out a lot of details about whys, hows and whats of sunscreens. While I found them to be highly informative, most of them were also highly technical. So I decided to come up with a very simple guide with just the basics which would help you to read the label on your sunscreen and decide if it serves your purpose.

  • UVA & UVB – Sunlight that we are exposed to has two kinds of harmful rays – UVA and UVB. The ‘A’ in UVA represents Aging and ‘B’ represents Burning. So a good sunscreen should be able to protect the skin from UVA as well as UVB rays.
  • SPF – Sun Protection Factor – It indicates the level of protection from UVB rays. So, SPF indicates how much it will protect your skin from burning. SPF is generally followed by a number. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays.
  • PA – PA indicates the level of protection from UVA rays. So, PA indicates the level of protection from UVA rays. The term ‘PA’ is always followed by a ‘+’ sign. The more the number of ‘+’ signs, the better is the protection from UVA rays.  PA+ means little protection, PA++ indicates moderate protection  and PA+++ shows very good protection

Now lets go through some examples to help you understand better.

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock


SPF 50+  Like I mentioned before, Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. So, this indicates quite good protection from UVB rays, meaning it protects the skin from burning.

PA+++ Indicates very good protection from UVA rays, meaning it protects the skin from aging effects of the sun.

They recommend you use it in liberal quantity about 15-20 minutes before getting exposed to the sun. Combined with other factors like it is non-greasy and the fact that it is gentle enough on sensitive skin, this makes it a really good sunblock.

Ponds BB Cream & Lakme CC Cream

Both of them have SPF 30 PA++ on their label.

SPF 30 – Indicates the minimum requirement by dermatologists to block 97% of sun’s UVB rays

PA++ – Indicates moderate protection from UVA rays.

So does this mean you can replace your sunscreen with these BB/CC creams?Answer is a big NO.  For any of these sun protectants to work, you need to apply them liberally over your skin. When it comes to using these BB/CC creams, we use very little quantity which doesn’t give adequate protection from the sun’s rays. So you cannot really rely on the BB/CC creams alone for sun protection, you definitely need a proper sunscreen.

Now grab the sunscreen lying in your drawer and try and read the labels. With this article, you would be able to understand it a tad better. Is it giving you adequate sun protection? If not, it’s time to make the switch. Next time you go sunscreen shopping, you know better what to look for!

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Image Credit: Free Happy Woman Enjoying Nature © Catwoman / Fotolia


  1. Very informative and simple to understand. I have done so much research regarding the sunscreen when I read it I understand and then I tend to forget. hehehe. But this post of yours along with the table is very easy to remember. I try not to go out in the sun unless necessary. But I prefer the Neutrogena one and have been using it for a few years now. 🙂

  2. Thanks for translating the Greek and Latin to plain, simple English! ? This was quite informative.

  3. A huge THANK YOU for sharing this article…This article covers something which is missed by many! Sunscreen, being an important part of our routine..we all should know this…really helpful 🙂

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