The FDA made history yesterday by announcing some new rules for regulating sunscreen labeling. The FDA has been evaluating sunscreen labeling since 1978, without ever doing much about it. Now, at the urging of environmental groups and Congress, the agency announced that the industry is in for a lot of change.
Sunscreens can be confusing, from the ingredients in the product to the claims made on the packaging. The FDA’s biggest concern was regarding UVA/UVB protection, also called “broad spectrum.” While both types of UV rays contribute to sunburn, UVA rays are the biggest culprits in skin cancer and premature aging. Not all products protect against both types of UV rays. The new guidelines should make everything a bit clearer for consumers. Companies have a year to revise their labels; smaller companies have two years.
A quickie summary of the changes:
-SPF values can no longer be higher than 50, since there isn’t enough evidence to prove that higher SPF values actually provide more protection.
-Only broad spectrum products with an SPF of 15 or higher can claim to be protective against the risk of skin cancer and early aging. Products with an SPF lower than 15 can only claim to protect against sunburn.
-The terms “waterproof,” “sweatproof,” and “sunblock” can no longer be used. Products also can’t claim to provide more than two hours of protection without reapplication.
-While “waterproof” is not OK, products can still call themselves “water resistant,” but must state when they should be reapplied (40 vs. 80 minutes after swimming or sweating.)
-Spray sunscreens are getting scrutinized. There’s some evidence that they may not be as effective as more traditional formulations like creams, and that the doses they deliver aren’t consistent. So stay tuned for more information about this one.
For the moment, use common sense when you’re applying sunscreen–don’t use old bottles, reapply frequently, and try to hang out in the shade once in a while. Happy summer!