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What’s the Difference Between Waterproof and Water-Resistant Sunscreens?

Sunscreen labels are often a mess of adjectives. Two of the most common are waterproof and water-resistant. The only problem is, these terms are never properly explained. They both sound good, but why put one and not the other?

Believe it or not, but the FDA actually considers these two completely different concepts and there is a difference between the two. This post will explain the difference and offer general advice for wearing sunscreen while also enjoying the water.

Waterproof

According to the FDA, a sunscreen is technically waterproof if it is able to maintain its SPF after 80 minutes of activity in the water.

Water-resistant

While a waterproof sunscreen should maintain its SPF for 80 minutes, a water-resistant sunscreen should have the same SPF after 40 minutes of water activity.

In other words, waterproof provides a greater level of protection.

That said, the FDA concedes that these numbers are not exact. Measuring sun protection is not an exact science and these numbers are closed to conservative estimates rather than dependable figures. The simple fact is that water is going to erode the effectiveness of sunscreen. While it may occur more slowly or rapidly depending on the brand, level of SPF and the fact that the sunscreen is waterproof or water-resistant, the bottom line is that you are not going to get maximum protection in the water.

Now that doesn’t mean be paranoid and avoid water activities entirely. Instead, try to avoid water activities in direct sunlight during the middle hours of the day. Water has the tendency to magnify the sun’s rays, which can cause more damage than usual and in a shorter amount of time. You may have noticed that you burn a lot quicker when you are swimming. It is for exactly this reason that this happens.

Also, regardless of whether your sunscreen is waterproof or water-resistant, apply and re-apply often. In fact, you should re-apply your sunscreen every time you get out of the water. Towel off, take a moment to let your skin dry, and then put on another layer of sunscreen.

If you are using a decent brand of sunscreen, re-application won’t be that big of a deal. It is with oily and greasy sunscreens that re-application is a miserable process. If you’ve spent some time on this site, you’ve probably noticed that we have made many recommendations when it comes to which sunscreen is best. As an example, check out our article on the best face sunscreen.

Conclusion

Waterproof provides more protection than water-resistant, but don’t get too caught up in these labels. Buy a good sunscreen, one that feels good on your skin and provides a high level of protection, and re-apply it every time you get out of the water. Furthermore, try to avoid water activities in direct sunlight and during the middle hours of the day. Which one I recommend? This 2 hour environmentally friendly sunscreen!

Do you have any thoughts when it comes to waterproof and water-resistant? Please share them in the comments below. As always, any comments and/or suggestions are welcome.