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3 Terms to Know When Decoding Your Sunscreen Label

Finally understand what your SPF is saying. 

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Photography by: Jamie Chung

As you're out catching rays this summer, it's crucial to be choosing the best sunscreen for your skin. But with all the different jargon on bottles of sunblock, it's not always easy to figure out what everything means. To you help you navigate this tricky terminology, we spoke with experts to break down three of the most ubiquitous sunscreen labelling terms and what you need to know about each one. 

 

Non-Nano

The claim: Zinc oxide and titanium oxide, traditionally white and chalky materials, are micronized into nanoparticles to make them cosmetically elegant. Their miniscule size makes them tiny enough to be absorbed into skin. 

 

The doc says: “Nano zinc oxide in sunscreen has been extensively and repeatedly assessed for safety by regulatory authorities around the world and widely accepted as being safe to use in sunscreen," says Deborah Sarnoff, a New York City dermatologist and president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. "Multiple studies have shown that nanoparticles do not penetrate living skin.”

 

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High Energy Visible Light (HEV)

The claim: The blue light emitted from your phones, tablets, and computers has been shown to accelerate signs of aging and hyperpigmentation.

 

The doc says: “While HEV is a potential contributor to cataracts and other eye maladies, the jury is still out on whether or not it’s causing skin damage,” says Sarnoff. 

 

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Reef-safe

The claim: Oxybenzone, a common sunscreen ingredient that washes off your body when you’re swimming, is contributing to the damage and bleaching of coral reefs.

 

The doc says: “Oxybenzone blocks a certain 320 to 340 nanometer portion of the UV spectrum, and it’s the only approved filter we have for that in the U.S.," Dr. Steven Wang, director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, in Basking Ridge, New Jersey tells us. And while he says there are a lot of issues impacting coral reefs, including global forming, "from an in vitro study that’s been done, it would take really high concentrations of oxybenzone to do what’s being claimed. The American Academy of Dermatology is trying to stop Hawaii’s legislation to ban oxybenzone because the science is not found.”