Don't Get Burned by the New FDA Sunscreen Guidelines: Here's Everything You Need to Know

It's summer and I already have a bad farmer tan and some new freckles to prove it, thanks to a careless (and hatless) weekend spent in the suburbs with friends. It's time to stock up on sunscreen, and while it's not the sexiest beauty product out there, it's a necessary evil--unless you want wrinkles, weird dark spots...oh and don't forget cancer. We know--you've heard all this before. What you may not have heard is that the way you are using sunscreen needs to change.
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It's summer and I already have a bad farmer tan and some new freckles to prove it, thanks to a careless (and hatless) weekend spent in the suburbs with friends. It's time to stock up on sunscreen, and while it's not the sexiest beauty product out there, it's a necessary evil--unless you want wrinkles, weird dark spots...oh and don't forget cancer. We know--you've heard all this before. What you may not have heard is that the way you are using sunscreen needs to change.
Photo: Vogue Paris, Inez & Vinoodh

Photo: Vogue Paris, Inez & Vinoodh

It's summer and I already have a bad farmer tan and some new freckles to prove it, thanks to a careless (and hatless) weekend spent in the suburbs with friends. It's time to stock up on sunscreen, and while it's not the sexiest beauty product out there, it's a necessary evil--unless you want wrinkles, weird dark spots...oh and don't forget cancer. We know--you've heard all this before.

What you may not have heard is that the way you are using sunscreen needs to change. The FDA announced new guidelines for sunscreen labeling last year, and since this is a transition year, there's lots of confusion out there right now because both old and new labels are floating around. (The FDA gave companies until June 18 to comply, though they've since extended the date to ensure there isn't a sunscreen shortage this summer.)

We asked a few dermatologists to lay it all out for us, and also to offer their take on the best way to stay protected with the least amount of hassle. Read on for the scoop on how to interpret the new labels, as well as our fave new sunscreens, which come in all sorts of innovative formulas. Trust us when we say this is not your mom's goopy Coppertone.

There's no such thing as "waterproof" sunscreen: Just ask Leah, who came back from her recent beach getaway a little fried after using a so-called waterproof brand. According to L’Oréal Paris Consulting Dermatologist Dr. Gervaise Gerstner, sunscreens can no longer claim to be waterproof and sweat-proof. Companies can say sunscreen is "water resistant" but must specify how often you should reapply.

So how often should you re-apply?: Dr. Gerstner recommends slathering more on after an hour of swimming or sweating. You don't need to re-apply for routine daily use. "Remember you get sun even through the car window," she reminded us.

What exactly does "broad spectrum" mean? With the new FDA monograph guidelines in effect, only products that provide balanced UV protection will be labeled ‘Broad Spectrum.’ Both UVA and UVB rays contribute to sunburn, skin cancer and premature skin aging so it’s important to pick a product that offers proven balanced protection. Products that are not ‘Broad Spectrum’ or contain SPF levels lower than SPF 15 can only claim to prevent sunburn.

So what about makeup and beauty products that contain sunscreen. Do they do anything?

Photo: Vogue Paris, by Inez & Vinoodh

Photo: Vogue Paris, by Inez & Vinoodh

Wearing foundation with SPF doesn't count: "It is great if a foundation has sunscreen in it, BUT I dont let this count…it is just an extra bonus," she said. "The reason is because we often skimp on the amount of foundation we apply as to not look too 'made-up.'" So apply sunscreen, then put your SPF-laden foundation over it.

Any sneaky tips for application? Dr. Gerstner said, "Put sunscreen on a foundation brush to easily apply the formula on your face. Also, use sunscreen spray for the hairline and part line which tend to burn, especially on blondes."

And how about all the the new mineral powder sunscreens? We asked Dr.Elizabeth Hale, a Clinical Associate Professor of Dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center, about these amazing products, which we feel are brilliant on so many levels. "I like mineral based powder sunscreens and think of them as a nice extra layer of protection. I am not convinced that they offer enough stand-alone protection," she said. "Personally, I use them daily as a last layer, over my sunscreen and any make up I might be wearing. It is a nice 'finish' and takes away any shiny look some sunscreens might impart to the skin."

Now that you're armed with information, go arm yourself with some products. Click through to see our five favorite sunscreens of the season.