What is PA+++?
Posted October 30, 2017
When it comes to sun safety, knowledge is power.
Skin cancer statistics are frightening, and the scary rise in the rates of melanoma has many of us stocking up on the sunscreen—and rightfully so! If you’re looking for ways to keep your skin radiant and safe from the sun’s UV rays, give your sunscreen selection the due diligence it deserves.
With so many products available, it’s important to look for sunscreen and cosmetic products that offer the protection you need, whether you’re lying on the beach on a summer’s day or making your daily commute to the office in the dead of winter. Sun safety is a year-round responsibility, and finding the right products to keep your skin protected is crucial.
When it comes to sunscreen, you’re likely familiar with the SPF label. But modern technology and cosmetic advancements have led to further protective substances and rating systems. If you’ve ever looked at a bottle of sunscreen and wondered what exactly some of those ratings stand for, you’re not alone.
Sun protection ratings and labels are meant to inform, and designed to make it easier to choose the right products for your skin; unfortunately, the vast array of labels, testing stipulations, and regulations can be overwhelming. In recent years, you’ve likely seen a host of products that include a rating that reads “PA+++”.
Take the mystery out of your sunscreen or skin care products and learn about these ratings. So what is PA+++ in sunscreen? Let’s decode the meaning behind this important label.
Why Protecting Your Skin is Important
Before we can delve into the mysteries of PA+++ rating systems, it’s important to take a look at why sunscreen and sun protection is so important.
Whether you’re lying on a sunny beach or sledding in the snow, any time you’re outside—regardless of season—your skin is hit with ultraviolet radiation.
You’ve likely experienced a sunburn at least once in your life. Red, sensitive skin that’s swollen to the touch and heat are hallmarks of the average sunburn. If you took a look at your sunburned skin under a microscope, you’d spot damaged skin cells and blood vessels. Repeated sunburns lead to dry, discolored, leathery skin that bruises easily.
While sunburn is an immediate, visible danger of spending too much time in the sun, the damage goes much deeper.
Exposure to UV rays can lead to DNA damage in your skin cells, and this damage can lead to skin cancer. Even if it takes quite a bit of time spent in the sun to tan or burn your skin, exposure to UV rays could be damaging your body’s DNA.
When it comes to Ultraviolet radiation, there are three different categories:
- UVA rays: This type of radiation penetrates deep into the skin, and may lead to premature skin aging and cancer.
- UVB rays: This type of radiation is responsible for the color change in your skin after spending time outdoors—your tan or sunburn is a direct result of UVB rays.
- UVC rays: This type of radiation is completely absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere, and won’t reach your skin to cause damage. Luckily, this is one type of UV radiation you don’t need to worry about.
The ultimate goal of sunscreen is to shield your skin against both UVA and UVB rays.
How Sunscreen Works
To understand the rating systems used on your favorite products, it’s important to understand how sunscreen protects your skin.
Sunscreens can come in a variety of forms: sprays, gels, wax, lotion, and mineral powders tend to be the most popular options. Sunscreen products are typically made up of a mix of inorganic and organic chemicals.
- Inorganic chemicals: This includes minerals like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are used in sunscreen to act as a physical sunblock. These ingredients are adept at reflecting UV rays. If you’ve ever seen photos of lifeguards with white noses, you’ve seen these inorganic chemicals. With modern technology, companies have been able to make these particles smaller, so those familiar white stripes are seen less and less.
- Organic chemicals: This includes ingredients such as oxybenzone or avobenzone. These ingredients are able to absorb UV radiation, then release it from the body as heat.
Sunscreen Rating Systems
One of the most familiar rating labels, or Sun Protection Factor. This refers to your sunscreen or cosmetic’s ability to shield your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UVB) rays. Essentially, the SPF number indicates how long it will take for your skin to burn when exposed to the sun.
The average person’s skin begins to burn after 10 to 20 minutes of sun exposure. An SPF 20 product would then protect the skin from burning for about 20 times longer —so about 200 to 400 minutes. However, sunscreen must be reapplied at least every two to four hours, as sunscreen is quick to sweat off or wash off in the water.
So if SPF measures a products ability to block UVB rays, what does PA+++ mean?
The Origins of PA+++
You’ll spot PA ratings on a variety of sunscreens, healthy makeup, and skin care products. So where did PA+++ come from?
The PA grading system was established in Japan, and is meant to inform users of the level of protection from UVA rays.
The PA rating system was adapted from the Persistent Pigment Darkening (PPD) method. This test uses UVA radiation to cause a persistent darkening—tanning—of the skin. PPD is tested on a variety of people, all exposed to UVA light. Every test subject is analyzed on how long it takes for their skin to tan. Researchers then compare the results between unprotected and protected skin.
In theory, a sunscreen with a PPD rating of 10 should allow an individual to handle 10 times as much UVA exposure. However, PPD values can’t be measured precisely; because there’s no standardized system for evaluating PPD score, various rating systems are used to signal a product’s UVA protection strength.
PPD doesn’t indicate the exact amount of UVA protection a product provides; instead, this test is converted into a country or region’s scoring system.
Currently, only five countries utilize UVA testing: Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and Australia. In Japan, PPD results are grouped and simplified into PA measurements.
These conversions go as follow:
If a product’s PPD = 2 to 4, PA = PA+
If a product’s PPD = 4 to 8, PA = PA++
If a product’s PPD = 8 to 16, PA = PA+++
If a product’s PPD = 16 or higher, PA = PA++++
PA+ means your sunscreen or cosmetic provides some protection against UVA rays, PA++ provides moderate protection, and PA+++ offers the best protection of the three. Recent advancements have seen the introduction of PA++++ products in certain countries; this grade offers PPD protection of 16 or more. However, the latter rating is rare, as this level of protection is found in few products.
In recent years, Japan was the first country to increase its PA ratings to include PA++++, but not all countries have updated, and still use PA+++ as their limit. According to The Klog, because of the way PA sunscreens are categorized, it can be difficult to determine the difference in sun protection; for example, a sunscreen with a PPD of 20 and a sunscreen with a PPD of 40 could both be rated as PA+++ or PA++++, but there's no way to tell which one offers superior protection.
Here’s an easy guide when shopping for sunscreens and cosmetics that utilize the PA+++ rating: the more plus signs on your product, the better.
What is Broad Spectrum?
If the product you’re using offers both UVA and UVB protection, it will be labeled as Broad Spectrum. In the United States, only sunscreens and cosmetics labeled as Broad Spectrum provide protection from both damaging forms of radiation.
Colorescience products offer Broad Spectrum protection to keep your skin safe from sun exposure, while offering complexion smoothing features and layered coverage.
Tips for Sun Protection
- Reapply your sunscreen: When it comes to sunscreen application, apply at least 20 minutes before heading outside and be sure to reapply every two to four hours—more often if you plan on swimming or you’re doing a strenuous workout.
- Use multiple protection methods: For most of us, the best protection comes through a combination of methods. Wear sunscreen, brush on Colorescience UV protectors, and don layers of clothing to keep your skin protected from the sun’s rays. Use this chart as a handy guide and choose your protection based on the UV ratings in your area.
- Take note of the labels and ratings on your products. Shop for sunscreens and skin care offerings that are labeled with SPF and PA+++ ratings, and look for the “Broad Spectrum” label to ensure you’re getting the best protection possible.
Your skin deserves to be protected, whether you’re heading to the beach or running errands in the fall. Understanding the way your skin care and cosmetic products protect your skin from sun damage is crucial.
So, what is PA+++? An important rating that can help guide your selection when it comes to skin care products.