Sunscreen is a highly important product when it comes to skincare. After all, our skin is constantly being bombarded by UV rays whenever we’re exposed to sunlight. This includes when we’re in front of a window or sitting in a driver’s seat going somewhere. There’s no way to really escape the necessity of sunscreen unless you entirely avoid going outside and sacrifice natural light. That doesn’t sound fun for the vast majority of us. Consequently, we’re stuck with remembering how and when to apply sunscreen. There’s a lot most of us don’t necessarily know about sunscreen though. Most of us simply accept that we need to put it on without understanding the product that we’re applying. Now’s the time to fix that as we’re going to look at some of the major terms in sunscreen and why they matter so that we are all a bit better informed when selecting our sunscreens in the future.

UVA/UVB
These two shorthand designations represent ultraviolet A rays and ultraviolet B rays. There is technically a third kind, ultraviolet C rays, that never even make it to the ground thanks to our atmosphere. Each of these classes of UV rays is responsible for a different effect on the skin, but both of them need to be defended against to keep the skin healthy. UVA rays are largely associated with premature again as they penetrate deeply into the skin and cause damage across several layers of skin. The most readily apart result tends to be premature aging, yes, but there is also plenty of evidence to suggest clear links to various skin cancers. UVB rays, by contrast, tend to be more superficial in their effects and are primarily linked to inflammation such as sunburn or generalized redness. Despite this, UVB rays have an even clearer role in causing the development of skin cancers. Neither kind of UV ray is something any of us want impacting or skin.

Woman with sunscreen on back

Broad Spectrum
To understand this term, we need to take a brief step backward in time. It was only comparatively recently in time that the United States, at the very least, put in regulations to ensure that sunscreens had accurate information on them. Up until that point, people assumed that sunscreen provided them with adequate protection from the sun’s rays. Most sunscreens at the time didn’t though. They’re protected from UVB rays while letting UVA rays pass cleanly through. This was less than ideal and provided less effective protection than was let on. New regulations lead to the labeling of “broad spectrum” to help people recognize that the product skips this traditional shortcoming and provides protection from both kinds of UV rays that reach us. In essence, it is the assurance that your skin will be safe as long as you wear the sunscreen without needing to find a second form of protection.

Mineral Sunscreen
Most sunscreens out there are chemical-based. This statement alone doesn’t make much sense when you realize everything is, technically, a chemical, but let’s take a closer look. Chemical sunscreens are products that focus on putting a layer of product on your skin that bonds with it and provides a layer of protection from UV rays specifically by absorbing those rays. Mineral sunscreens are different. These products favor preventing UV rays from even contacting your skin briefly. They utilize what are known as physical blockers. These compounds are typically either the minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. UV rays are reflected away from the skin when they contact these minerals instead of being absorbed. They provide a greater overall protection as a result but are far less common products.

Sunscreen is too useful of a skincare product for us not to understand the language involved with it. Knowing how to “speak sunscreen” gives you the advantage of knowing exactly what a given product will be best at a glance as well as its potential shortcomings. It is worth noting that terminology does change from country to country and as a result, it is a good idea to check for local rating systems when traveling to a foreign country. Staying alert and aware to these definitions will keep your skin looking its best for years to come.

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