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UVA vs. UVB And Other Suncreen Terms You Should Definitely Know

What's the difference between SPF and PA, for instance?
PHOTO: Nick Onken

Although you should be putting sunscreen every single day, the use of these skincare products tend to rise in the summer months. And that's great—you really need to protect your skin from sun damage if you'll be outdoors for hours on end and especially if you're making a conscious effort to tan.

When picking out a sunscreen that covers all bases and gets the job done, you need to be careful about product labels. Here, a simple guide to terms you commonly see on bottles of sunscreen and what they actually mean:

1. UVA

Ultraviolet A rays are what cause skin to age. They penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays, targeting collagen and elastin, the losses of which result in sagging skin and wrinkles. They can also lead to skin cancer.

2. UVB

Ultraviolet B rays are what cause skin to burn. They hit the surface of the skin, leading to sunburn and, in extreme situations, skin cancer.

3. SPF

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is "the 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. As the SPF value increases, sunburn protection increases." Simply put, SPF shields us from UVB rays and measures how effective a sunscreen is from preventing sunburn.

4. PA

PA is a system created by the Japanese Cosmetic Industry Association to measure UVA protection. It consists of four levels: PA+, PA++, PA+++, and PA++++. The more pluses, the better the protection from the sun.

5. Broad spectrum

Broad spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

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