There are a few must-haves when it comes to selecting your sun protection products. Organizations like the American Academy of Dermatology recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher and water-resistant.

But understanding sunscreen labels can be confusing at times, leaving consumers wondering about the difference between waterproof vs. water-resistant sunscreen. What does "water-resistant" mean anyway?

With warmer weather and summer water activities on the horizon, here is a look at the reasons why experts recommend a water-resistant sunscreen.

Waterproof vs. Water-Resistant Sunscreen

On sunny days when you plan on jumping into the pool or going for a sweat-inducing jog, you'd probably like to know how your sunscreen will hold up when it gets wet. This is where the distinction between waterproof and water-resistant is so important. Read on for the difference between the two labels and how to choose a sunscreen that will provide adequate protection during water activities or exercise.

Does Waterproof Sunscreen Exist?

According to the FDA, there is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. Given that all sunscreens eventually wash off when exposed to wetness, a "waterproof sunscreen" does not exist.

However, sunscreens used to be labeled as waterproof if they would remain effective for a period of time when swimming or sweating. In a 2011 announcement, the FDA determined this was misleading and changed the sunscreen label requirements from waterproof to water-resistant where applicable. Since then, the water-resistant sunscreen meaning has become much more clear and regulated.

What Does Water-Resistant Mean?

The term "water-resistant" is used to replace claims like "waterproof" and "sweatproof" when describing how long sunscreen remains effective in wet conditions. When exposed to water, sunscreens become less effective. Some sunscreens, however, are formulated with ingredients that make them resistant to water for periods of time. After that period of time passes, the sunscreen is no longer effective against water and should be reapplied to restore its effectiveness.

Water-resistant sunscreens are required to be tested according to the FDA's SPF test procedure. Sunscreens can be water-resistant for up to 40 minutes or 80 minutes, and this rating must be stated on the label. Sunscreen labels must also state when users should reapply water-resistant sunscreen for the most effective sun protection when swimming or sweating.

What Makes Sunscreen Water-Resistant?

The active ingredients in sunscreen are responsible for protecting your skin from sun exposure. These active ingredients have very little to do with making a formula resistant to water for a period of time.

Some ingredients are added to sunscreen that make the formula water-resistant. These ingredients are particularly effective against slipping and sliding on the skin. When sunscreen sticks to the skin, it is less likely to wash off in the water or when performing intense, sweat-inducing exercise.

If a sunscreen claims to be water-resistant, it should have undergone FDA testing to ensure its efficacy.

How Do You Apply Water-Resistant Sunscreen?

The application of sunscreen varies depending on whether the conditions are dry or wet. When applied to dry skin, the general recommendation is to reapply sunscreen every two hours. When applied on skin that will become wet during swimming, sweating, or other activities, the recommendation varies depending on the sunscreen's degree of water resistance. Users will likely have to reapply sunscreen every 40 or 80 minutes in wet conditions.

Always read sunscreen label instructions carefully to ensure you are using the product correctly. Sunscreens like EltaMD UV Active Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+ and EltaMD UV Sheer Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+, for example, are water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. If you are swimming or sweating, you should reapply every 80 minutes or immediately after towel drying.

Sun Protection When Sweating and Swimming

There is a lot that goes into choosing an effective sunscreen, and there are a lot of questions that consumers have about how to best protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun. What is the concern behind waterproof vs. water-resistant? How much SPF do you need? How often should you reapply?

Finding a sunscreen that checks all the boxes doesn't have to be difficult. For water activities or intense outdoor exercise, EltaMD UV Active Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+ and EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 have you covered (literally).


  • Lacey Muinos

    Lacey is a Southern California-based freelance writer who combines her passions—fitness, health, and a vegan lifestyle—with her work to help readers feel and be their best. Her work has been featured in Healthline, Livestrong, Verywell Fit, Eat This Not That, KinderBeauty, and more.