What Does PA On Sunscreen Labels Stand For?

by Gio
pa sunscreen meaning


If SPF is all about how much sun protection a sunscreen gives you, what does PA+ stands for?

I mean, there must be a reason why this acronym has been popping up on so many sunscreen bottles lately… What is your sunscreen trying to tell you?

Let’s solve the mystery:

What’s The Difference Between SPF And PA?

Short answer: SPF is for UVB rays while PA is for UVA rays.

Remember when you were a kid and your parents told you to wear sunscreen to protect your skin from the sun? Little they did know back then that SPF referred to sunburn-inducing UVB rays only.

Yep, that’s right. Most sunscreens back then were designed to protect from UVB rays only. Those are the ones that make your skin burn. So if you didn’t get a sunburn your sunscreen was working, right?

Problem is, UVB rays aren’t the only type of UV radiation that does some serious damage to your skin. The sun emits UVA rays too.

UVA rays are to blame for premature aging, including wrinkles and dark spots. Plus, together with UVB rays, they contribute to the development of cancer.

Yet, until a few years ago, we didn’t have a way to measure sun protection from UVA rays. How crazy is that?!

Enter PA.

Related: What’s The Difference Between UVA and UVB rays?


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What’s PA And How Does It Work?

PA stands for Protection Grade of UVA rays. It’s a rating system created in Japan to indicate the level of protection from UVA rays.

The more plus signs next to PA, the higher the protection (the maximum is 3 +++).

PA Isn’t The Only Way To Measure UVA Protection

The PA system was born in Japan, so the system is mostly used in Asia. Other countries have different ways of measuring UVA protection:

  • Broad Spectrum: in the US, sunscreens that protect from both UVA and UVB rays must be labelled “broad spectrum.”
  • PPD: in Australia, PPD (Persistent Pigment Darkening) measures protection from UVA rays. A PPD of 5, for example, means you’ll be protected from UVA rays for 5 times longer.
  • UVA Seal: in the EU, sunscreens are stamped with a UVA seal if they provide UVA protection that’s at least one-third of the SPF.

The Bottom Line

No matter what country you live in, always make sure your sunscreen provides adequate protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

Do you use sunscreen labelled according to the PA system? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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4 comments

Anne January 14, 2014 - 4:35 pm

Thanks a lot for sharing this info, it’s really helpful for us who aren’t experts on skincare but are still aware that having a good sunscreen is a must for everyday wear.

Gio January 14, 2014 - 9:23 pm

Anne, you’re welcome. I’m glad you find it useful.

Trisha January 14, 2014 - 6:42 pm

This kind of thing is what makes your blog so great. I always learn something!

Though, frankly, I don’t think I’ve seen the PA system on anything here. This should definitely come to the USA.

Gio January 14, 2014 - 8:44 pm

Trisha, oh thank you!

I wish this system would be adopted everywhere. It’s very simple and would make things easier for everyone.

Comments are closed.