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What’s the Deal with “PA+++” on Sunscreen Labels?

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What’s the Deal with “PA+++” on Sunscreen Labels?

What is the PA sunscreen rating system? It can be a bit confusing knowing how to read a sunscreen label, especially when there are things like “PA+++” listed. So, what does “PA+++” mean? Keep reading to find out.

If you’re paying attention to your sunscreen label, then you’ve probably noticed that a handful of products come with a strange-looking rating on them in addition to an SPF number. We’re talking about the PA rating system in sunscreen. Our goal today is to explain exactly what this rating means, where it comes from and how you can use the information you’re about to learn to make smart skin care decisions in the future.

What the PA sunscreen rating system is:

The first thing you need to know is that PA is short for “Protection Grade of UVA.” This is an important distinction because SPF (sun protection factor) measures only UVB protection while the PA rating only measures UVA protection.

Both types of rays are bad for our skin, but in different ways. UVB rays are responsible for causing our skin to turn red and burn, while UVA rays cause the bulk of damage to our skin’s genes. For a long time — until the 1990s — people didn’t realize just how damaging UVA rays were. Turns out, they are the primary cause of signs of aging and skin cancer. They also happen to account for the majority of the sun’s energy.


The SPF (sun protection factor) measures only UVB protection while the PA rating only measures UVA protection.

Basically, protecting yourself from both UVB and UVA rays is very important, so knowing how to navigate a sunscreen label is a good skill to have.

“The PA rating system was originally established in Japan as a method of informing consumers of the level of protection provided by sunscreen. The pluses indicate the hierarchy of protection available. The more pluses, the higher the protection,” says Melissa Lekus, an esthetician based in Los Angeles.

The rating system is as follows:

PA+ = Some UVA protection
PA++ = Moderate UVA protection
PA+++ = High UVA protection
PA++++ = Extremely High UVA protection

These ratings correlate directly with something called “Persistent Pigment Darkening” (PPD), which refers to how long it takes for the skin to tan. If your product has a PPD of 2, then it takes twice as long for your skin to tan when protected versus how long it would take while unprotected. If your product has a PPD of 5, then it takes five times as long.

The correlations are as follows:

 = PPD between 2 and 4
PA++ = PPD between 4 and 8
PA+++ = PPD between 8 and 16
PA++++ = PPD of 16 or higher

Japan started implementing the PA scoring system in 1996, and it was upgraded to include the current highest indicator of protection – or PA++++ – in 2013. In recent years, non-Asian brands have followed suit to include the PA label (in addition to the SPF number) on their products.

Note that not all countries have upgraded to include the PA++++ yet. Some only recognize PA+++ as the highest UVA protection available.

The PA rating system, in action:

Here at Supergoop!, you’ll notice the PA label on some of our prominent products. As an example, let’s take a look at Supergoop!’s Superscreen Daily Moisturizer, our daily moisturizer with sun, tech and pollution protection. If you look at the label, you’ll see that it has an SPF of 40, which means it will take 40 times longer for your skin to redden than it would if you were unprotected. (Remember, SPF correlates with UVB rays.)

You’ll also see that Superscreen has a PA rating of “PA+++” on the label, which means that it provides high UVA protection. If you look at the correlating PPD, you’ll see that this rating means your skin is protected between eight and 16 times more than it would be without. (On that note, the PA system doesn’t differentiate very well between eight and 16 on a +++ rating. Therefore, it’s safest to assume that it protects at eight.)

In addition to the PA rating, sometimes you’ll see that a sunscreen label reads “broad spectrum.” Even though it’s not associated with a PA rating/PPD number, this term indicates that the sunscreen does, in fact, protect against both UVA and UVB rays. We’re proud to say that every single one of Supergoop!’s formulas is broad spectrum, and that it’s always been that way.


Rest assured, whether it says “broad spectrum” or has the PA label (or has both!), the product will protect your skin from both UVB and UVA rays.

Broad Spectrum Protection vs. PA Ratings:

You may be a bit confused when looking at Supergoop! products, since some of them have the PA label on them and some don’t, yet they all say “broad spectrum.”

So what is the difference between the PA label and the broad spectrum label? Absolutely nothing! The PA label system is not commonly used in European countries and the US, so we have decided to include the broad spectrum label on all of our products and include the PA label on some of our products that are used primarily on the face. Rest assured, whether it says “broad spectrum” or has the PA label (or has both!), the product will protect your skin from both UVB and UVA rays.

The importance of  PA ratings:

As we mentioned above, it wasn’t until very recently that the world realized just how damaging UVA rays were for our skin. Now that people are beginning to understand how vital it is to protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays, everyone should always use products that do so. There’s really no excuse not to!

“It is imperative that one uses a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays,” stresses Lekus. “Also, it’s important that sunscreen is worn daily by everyone no matter what the weather is like outside. Don’t forget the tops of the ears, neck, and back of the hands. Even if you think you’re only exposed to the sun for mere moments, and even if it’s gloomy out!”

On that note, we’ll leave you with a handy little PA cheat sheet of our Supergoop! SPF…happy shopping!

PA +++ products: 
Superscreen Daily MoisturizerUnseen SunscreenCity Sunscreen SerumDaily Correct CC Cream, Zincscreen 100% Mineral Lotion

PA ++++ products:
 Everyday Sunscreen

But don’t forget: All Supergoop! Sunscreens protect you from UVA rays (since they are broad spectrum), even if they don’t have the PA label on them.

+More questions about the PA sunscreen rating system? Leave them below!

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