Being a savvy shopper when it comes to buying sunscreen should be a little easier this summer, thanks to new sunscreen regulations implemented by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dermatologists believe the new labeling requirements will take the guesswork out of choosing an effective sunscreen with the best sun protection.
Sunscreen labels now are required to provide consumers with information about whether a sunscreen will protect against skin cancer in addition to sunburn.
New labels will also indicate whether or not the product is water resistant. Makeup and moisturizers containing sunscreen that meets the FDA’s testing standards also will include warning labels specifying their sun-protective limitations.
“Sunscreen has always been an important tool in the fight against skin cancer, and these new regulations will greatly improve the consumer’s ability to make smart decisions, at a glance, about a product’s effectiveness imply by reading the label,” said dermatologist Zoe D. Draelos, consulting professor at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C. “Everyone, regardless of skin color, can get skin cancer, which is why it is important for people to properly protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays.”
On the label you’ll see whether the sunscreen:
• Is Broad Spectrum, which means the sunscreen protects against UVB and UVA rays and helps prevent skin cancer and sunburn.
• Has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. While SPF 15 is the FDA’s minimum recommendation for protection against skin cancer and sunburn, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
• Has a Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert in the Drug Facts section of the label, which means the sunscreen will only prevent sunburn and will NOT reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.
• Is Water Resistant for up to 40 minutes or 80 minutes, which means the sunscreen provides protection while swimming or sweating up to the time listed on the label. Sunscreen manufacturers now are banned from claiming that a sunscreen is “waterproof” or “sweat proof,” as the FDA has determined those terms are misleading.
And, here’s another caveat from a consumer watchdog group. SPF numbers like 100 or 150 can give users a false sense of security, according to the Environmental Working Group because many consumers assume that SPF 100 is twice as effective as SPF 50, but dermatologists say the difference between the two is negligible.
Where an SPF 50 product might protect against 97 percent of sunburn-causing rays, an SPF 100 product might block 98.5 percent of those rays.
“The high SPF numbers are just a gimmick,” says Marianne Berwick, professor of epidemiology at the University of New Mexico.
“Most people really don’t need more than an SPF 30 and they should reapply it every couple of hours.” Berwick says sunscreen should be used in combination with hats, clothing and shade, which provide better protection against ultraviolet radiation.