Just when you thought you had your sunscreen routine under control, the Food and Drug Administration had to go and change everything.
Don’t worry—it’s good news! The new labeling guidelines from the FDA are aimed at making it easier for people to understand exactly what kind of protection they’re getting when they buy sunscreen. Once they’re in place, consumers will be able to make better choices about the products they use and, in turn, be able to better protect themselves against skin cancer and early aging.
The new guidelines don’t affect the actual formulas or regulate the ingredients that go into them, but the tubes and bottles will now carry a label just like over-the-counter drugs, and three main things on the tube will look a lot different.
The new guidelines make it clear just how much protection a product provides. Right now, a sunscreen’s stated SPF refers only to the product’s ability to filter UVB rays. (Remember—UVA rays cause aging; UVB rays cause burning.) Some products claim to provide “broad-spectrum” protection against both, but the term doesn’t really have any definitive meaning, and some products advertised as “broad-spectrum” really aren’t.
From now on, in order to be labeled as “broad-spectrum” or to make claims of protecting against cancer or aging, a sunscreen must provide equal protection against UVA and UVB rays and be SPF 15 or higher. If a product has different levels of protection against UVA and UVB rays, it can only carry an SPF that reflects the lowest level of protection. For example, if a product provides SPF 30 protection against UVB but only SPF 15 protection against UVA, the product’s new label must say SPF 15. Another big change is that any sunscreen with SPF 14 or lower will be required to carry a warning label stating that it has not been shown to protect against cancer or skin aging.
Although some consumers are still wary of chemical sunscreens, the FDA reiterates that it has no reason to consider any ingredients—chemical or physical—dangerous and that the benefits of wearing sunscreen far outweigh any potential problems caused by their use. (Sheer Balance always recommends physical blocks over chemicals, however.)
No More False Promises
These three words will be forbidden from appearing on a sunscreen label: “waterproof,” “sweatproof,” and “sunblock.” There is no such thing as waterproof or sweatproof sun protection, and all three of these words lure consumers into a false sense of security. From now on, sunscreens can be labeled “water-resistant,” as long as they specify the amount of protection they offer, whether forty minutes or eighty minutes before reapplication, according to the FDA’s standard testing methods. Any sunscreen that does not label itself as “water-resistant” must now carry a label urging consumers to choose a water-resistant product for swimming or sports.
In addition to making these changes to the guidelines, the FDA will now require sunscreen labels to remind consumers that sunscreen itself is not enough to completely protect against skin cancer and that the best way to stay safe is to use sunscreen in conjunction with wearing protective clothing and avoiding the sun as much as possible.
Skin cancer diagnoses have been on the rise for years, especially among young women. Many dermatologists even report treating patients in their teens and twenties for malignant melanoma and other sun-related cancers. These commonsense changes will help keep us all a little safer, not to mention looking a little younger for a little longer.