A Comprehensive Guide to Every Sunscreen Term, Defined

Curated via Twitter from Allure’s twitter account….

Chemical sunscreens rely on lab-concocted compounds to protect from UV rays, and physical ingredients "are synthetically created — it is illegal to use mined versions of zinc and titanium dioxide since they are contaminated with dangerous levels of heavy metals," says Romanowski.

A term used to describe a sunscreen that protects from UV rays by absorbing them with chemical ingredients, such as octocrylene or avobenzone (though it’s worth noting even "mineral" sunscreens are made in labs).

Still, these are unregulated terms, so double-check the label for any of the above ingredients if reef safety is a priority. (Reef-safe sunscreens may also be labeled "biodegradable," says Sonya Lunder, senior toxics adviser for the Sierra Club’s gender, equity, and environment program.

These sunscreens achieve their SPF factor with physical blockers, like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, says Steven Wang, a dermatologist in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. (They form a physical barrier between UV rays and skin.

Sunscreen ingredients can already be a bit of a brain teaser for the average shopper — do you choose a formula with zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, a combo of both, or something else entirely, like a non-mineral filter? — but when you add in other words from elsewhere on the label, the challenge of choosing the right protection multiplies exponentially.

A sunscreen that offers protection from both UVB rays, which burn skin, and UVA rays, which cause damage like collagen breakdown, says Elizabeth Hale, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

Opt for physical sunscreens instead of chemical ones, since they're less likely to irritate skin, and look for options without "fragrance," another top offender, listed on the ingredient label.

There's no standard for just how sand-repellent a sunscreen is, but some independent labs offer tests for sunscreen makers who want to make this claim. "It means that when the sunscreen was exposed to several different sands — fine, medium, and all-purpose — the SPF level didn't change.

Some brands test for distinctions like being good for sensitive skin, but seeing this term doesn't indicate which benefit they tested for, nor on how many people, says Heather Woolery-Lloyd, a board-certified dermatologist in Miami.

Here, you'll find explanations of the most common words and phrases found on sunscreens so you can approach the shelves (or the websites) with the confidence that you're getting what you want and need, whether that’s a formula that won't irritate your skin, one that won't harm the environment, one that won't budge when you sweat, or all of the above — and then some.

Since there's no actual test to verify that a sunscreen is better for activities, any sunscreen that's qualified as water-resistant for 80 minutes will do the trick. In the U. S. , the FDA regulates this term via one standard test: A subject alternates between getting wet and drying off multiple times and is then tested to be sure the sunscreen is still on and in effect.

Either term should mean that a sunscreen doesn't contain any of these five ingredients: oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, 4-methylbenzylidene, and butyl-paraben, says Woolery-Lloyd.

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