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As if sunscreen labels weren’t confusing enough, with SPF numbers, broad-spectrum labels and water-resistance minutes. PA++++ is a new rating showing up on sunscreen labels — and here’s what you need to know.
The PA Rating System was developed in Japan in 1996 and is an independent UVA protection score. PA stands for the ‘Protection Grade of UVA Rays.’ The rating is based on a method where researchers in a lab determine a score based on Persistent Pigment Darkening (PPD).
The test uses UVA radiation to cause persistent tanning of the skin. PPD is tested on a variety of people, all exposed to UVA light. Each person is analyzed to record how long it takes for his/her skin to darken and tan. Researchers then compare the results between unprotected and protected skin.
In theory, sunscreen with a PPD rating of 10 should allow a person to handle 10 times as much UVA exposure. PPD results are grouped and simplified into PA measurements:
If a product’s PPD is 2 to 4, the PA = PA+
If a product’s PPD is 4 to 8, the PA = PA++
If a product’s PPD is 8 to 16, the PA = PA+++
If a product’s PPD is 16 or higher, the PA = PA++++
Some UVA protection = PA+
Moderate UVA protection = PA++
High UVA protection = PA+++
Extremely High UVA protection = PA++++
For now (Dec 2020), the PA Rating System is primarily used in Asia to score protection from UVA rays for sunscreens. In the US, we use the claim of "Broad Spectrum” on labels to help us score the UVA protection.
If you see "Broad Spectrum" on the label, the sunscreen should protect skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
There are some drawbacks to the PA Rating System.
1. PPD values are not standardized across all countries and vary depending on the region. In general, the more plus signs, the more UVA protection.
2. There is no agreement on how the PA values are achieved since it measures UVA rays darkening the skin which is not uniform. Not all skin turns brown from sun exposure, or at the same rate which means the rating is inconsistent.
3. It is also difficult to determine the difference in sun protection between a PPD of 20 and PPD of 40 which would both be rated as PA+++ or PA++++.
In 2013, Japanese researchers changed the PA Rating System to include a new highest indicator of protection to PA++++. Please note, not all countries have upgraded to include the PA++++ yet. Some only recognize PA+++ as the highest UVA protection available. As if all those plus signs weren’t confusing enough.
4. The PA rating also is not related to time as the SPF numbers are, which causes a great deal of confusion as to what the PA+ actually means. In other words, no one knows how long the PA rating lasts from person to person in real-world use.
Remember, PA rating only ranks how effective a sunscreen is at protecting skin from UVA rays.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) only measures how effective a sunscreen is at protecting skin from UVB rays. SPF 30 products shield 97% UVB rays.
In general, the higher the SPF value, the higher the PA value.
UVA: Long-wavelength and lower energy UV rays that go deep into skin and cause long-term damage such as wrinkles.
UVB: Short-wavelength and stronger energy UV rays that attack the surface of skin and cause immediate damage such as sunburn.
Incidentally, the process to determine a sunscreen's SPF rating is similar to how a PA score is determined. The test is preformed in a lab by a human and is also based on Persistent Pigment Darkening (PPD). SPF testing is slightly more scientific because it can be more easily replicated. It is important to keep in mind both systems are subjective.
The PA label system is not commonly used in European countries or the US. Remember the PA system only rates UVA coverage. Sunscreen products in the US commonly use the the term "broad spectrum" on labels to indicate UVA and UVB coverage. If you see “broad spectrum," the sunscreen will protect your skin from both UVB and UVA rays — there is no need to look for a PA label.
All Waxhead Sunscreens protect you from UVA rays (since they are broad spectrum), even if they don’t have the PA label on them.
Per FDA regulations, sunscreens can state if they offer protection from UVA rays with a "Broad Spectrum” claim on the label. US sunscreens are not (yet) required to indicate the level of UVA protection. We’re a small company and the official PA rating obtained through a Japanese testing protocol is very expensive.
Our sunscreens use non-nano zinc oxide, which is the ONLY active sunscreen ingredient that covers the entire UVA (and UVB) spectrum, and at 25% concentration, the highest of any US brand, our UVA coverage is exceptional, achieving at least PA+++ and likely PA++++ for UVA coverage, depending on how much the user applies within the coverage area.
Sunscreens labels can be confusing and depending on where the product is made, the labels will have different ratings and terms. SPF measures only UVB protection, while the PA rating only measures UVA protection.
It is always important to choose a sunscreen that will protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays. We always suggest reading the ingredients and looking for 20-25% “non-nano zinc oxide.” This active ingredient covers the entire UV spectrum and will keep your skin protected.
1. Know your ingredients — Flip over your sunscreen and read the ingredients. We want everyone to know what good ingredients are, regardless of whether they use our products or not. Your health is worth it.
2. Buy safe sunscreen — Waxhead is dedicated to using only the healthiest, safest, most effective ingredients in our sunscreens. Shop Safe Sunscreen here.
3. Teach a friend — If you know someone who might still be buying sunscreen with questionable ingredients, please share this post with him/her.
We built Waxhead’s four modern, sun-safety strategies on traditional methods used for thousands of years.