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Sunscreen, sunblock, suntan lotion… these terms are all interchangeable, right? Wrong! There are several important differences among these descriptors. The FDA even regulates their use, so it pays to learn your lingo!
Shedding the light on sunblock
As the name implies, sunblock is intended to block the sun’s rays. At one time, this term was reserved for products like Goddess Garden’s that use minerals for sun protection. These minerals reflect the rays away from the skin, blocking them from doing damage. Natural sunblocks are referred to as mineral or physical blockers because the minerals provide a physical barrier to the sun’s harmful rays. The rules on calling something a sunblock have changed though, so keep reading!
What is sunscreen?
“Sunscreen” was initially nomenclature for the chemical screens that filter the sun’s rays and protect the skin from burns. They create a chemical reaction on your skin, and require 20 minutes to become effective. They also break down in the sun and must be reapplied often. The word soon became commonplace; however, the definition was blurred.
Sunblock vs. sunscreen
The term “sunblock” was adopted by the masses. Like the company name “Kleenex” became the blanket term for facial tissue, “sunblock” came to mean any product designed to prevent a sunburn, regardless how the product actually worked. At the same time, many people were also using the word “sunscreen” as an alias for all things SPF. It got confusing! It also posed a possibility for problems since the terms were being used interchangeably for two different types of products.
The FDA clarifies SPF
In 2011, the FDA stepped in to offer clarification. They felt the use of some labeling terms could lead people to think they were getting better protection than they actually were. For example, the FDA stopped allowing companies to use “waterproof.” Instead, they have to use “water-resistant.” At the same time, the FDA also stopped allowing use of the term “sunblock”—even if the product was a physical blocker. The FDA felt the term had the potential to overstate a product’s effectiveness. [i]
Sunscreen—the umbrella term for SPF coverage
Thanks to the FDA’s regulations, “sunscreen” is now the word of choice for describing all sun products—whether they are mineral or chemical. While habit still has people referring to products as “sunblock,” you won’t see that on a label anymore.
What is suntan lotion?
Suntan lotion adds another level of complexity. While many people refer to sunscreens as suntan lotions, true suntan lotions enhance your skin’s color. They do this by accelerating your skin’s reaction to UV rays. If you’re looking to protect your skin from burns, premature skin aging and cancer, a suntan lotion could have the opposite effect!
What to look for
To stay protected from burning UVB rays and the aging and cancer-causing UVA rays, look for a sunscreen with a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30. If you want a safe way to block the rays and reflect them away from you, pick a natural sunscreen like Goddess Garden’s with the active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. If you’re looking to achieve a deep, dark tan, we won’t judge, but we strongly encourage you to read a bit about tanning to see how the sun affects your skin before you head outside. Remember, nothing is more beautiful than healthy skin!
- New Sunscreen Rules—Water Resistance and Drug Facts
- Give Chemicals the Bird: Chemical vs. Mineral UV Protection
- The Myth of the Base Tan
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