If you’re shopping for sunscreen this spring you’d notice the bottles, tubes and canisters on the shelves may not look different, but on a closer look you’d find gone are the misleading terms such as - "waterproof" and "sunblock”. Added are new warnings that some products don't protect against wrinkles and skin cancer and that others do so only as part of a larger sun-protection plan.
These changes are the result of new labeling rules from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The long-delayed rules cover all sunscreen products shipped by large manufacturers since mid-December. The switch is a huge undertaking, as it will include not only the beach and sport products, but also every makeup, moisturizer or lip balm that carries an SPF (sun protection factor) number.
Big question is will the new labels help consumers better protect their skin from sun damage? Simple answer is yes! — If consumers take the time to read the fine print and then choose and use the products wisely.
Labels inform consumers that sunscreens help reduce the risk of skin cancer, according to a 2011 final rule. (Photo curtsey of FDA)
Get Educated In Sun Screening:
• SPF numbers still matter -This is the number that tells you how well a product protects you from sunburn, caused by ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. The numbers range from 2 to 100 or more. For a good margin of safety, choose products with SPF’s of at least 30 to 50. Keep in mind that you get the promised protection only if you apply the product liberally and often (at least every two hours).
• Low SPF’s now come with a warning - Products with SPF’s below 15 must carry warnings that they protect only against sunburn, not skin aging or skin cancer. Such products are often sold as "tanning lotions," are not recommended by dermatologists.
• Broad spectrum claims are backed by testing - Dermatologists have long recommended broad spectrum sunscreens, those that offer significant protection from both UVB and UVA rays. Both kinds of rays contribute to wrinkles and skin cancer. Finally, now all products must pass a standard test before they can make that claim.
• Water-resistant does not mean waterproof - Labels can no longer say that sunscreens are waterproof or sweat-proof, because all of them wash or wear off. The new labels can claim water resistance, but must inform consumers how often to reapply the product when swimming or sweating — every 40 minutes or every 80 minutes. These claims also must be backed by, testing.
• Sunscreen is never enough - Broad spectrum sunscreens with SPF’s of 15 and above now carry labels that say they "can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging" if used as directed — in combination with limiting your time in the sun, especially at midday, and wearing long sleeves, pants, hats and sunglasses.
Those additional measures are probably more important than any sunscreen.
The watchdog group, which will update annual sunscreen recommendations in May, the group has been critical of hyped sunscreen claims and unproven safety. It also wants FDA to approve sunscreen ingredients available elsewhere in the world that it says are more effective.
The FDA, the industry and dermatologist panels, approve that the products on the market are safe and effective but the advice: “Not to rely on sunscreen alone is important”. Sun protection is a total package and includes shade, broad-brimmed hats and common sense.