New F.D.A. Sunscreen Guidelines To Clear Up Label Confusion

news / 2011-07-29

Learn how to make more informed decisions and keep your skin safe.
With thousands of sun protection products out there, and countless almost-indecipherable claims and labels, the world of sunscreens can be pretty confusing. But good news for us consumers: Sunscreens are now being sorted out (at last!)

The Food and Drug Administration has recently issued new rules and guidelines for sunscreen manufacturers, which go into effect in a year to help us better understand sunscreen labels. Now you can make more informed decisions about the products and keep your skin safe. Here's the key updates you should know:

The new sunscreen guidelines

"Broad spectrum" label
Sunscreens can only be labelled "broad spectrum" if they protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunburn is primarily caused by UVB, but both UVB and UVA can cause sunburn, skin cancer, and premature skin aging.

Only sunscreens that say "broad spectrum" and "SPF 15" (or higher) can claim to protect against all types of sun-induced skin damage (skin cancer and early skin aging). Any product that is not labelled as "broad spectrum" or has an SPF value between 2 and 14 can only claim to help prevent sunburn.

The FDA is also looking into products with SPF values higher than 50. Currently, there's no data to demonstrate that products with an SPF greater than 50 provide additional protection compared to products with SPF values of 50.

False claims
Manufacturers cannot label their sun protection products as "sunblocks", "waterproof" or "sweatproof" because such claims are false. For sunscreens that are "water resistant", manufacturers need to specify how long the product is effective while swimming or sweating. Also, sunscreens cannot claim protection immediately on application (for example, "instant protection") or protection for more than two hours without reapplication, unless they get approval from FDA.

Take these sun protection measures

To reduce the risk of skin cancer or early skin aging from spending time in the sun, FDA recommends these tips:

  • Use sunscreens that say "broad spectrum" and have an SPF value of at least 15 regularly and as directed.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours -- more often if you're sweating or in and out of water.
  • Limit time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun's rays are the strongest.
  • Wear clothing to protect skin exposed to the sun (sleeved shirts, broad-brimmed hats, pants, sunglasses.)

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