Everyone knows you’re supposed to wear sunscreen with SPF in it to prevent sunburn, skin cancer and other damage like dark spots and wrinkles. However, it feels like every time you turn around there are new rules and regulations regarding what constitutes a safe sunscreen and what you really need to have. What should you buy, and when should you reapply, to know that you’re getting the best protection possible?
The FDA makes changes to these types of regulations all the time, but in spring 2012, they made some changes that are affecting your choices at the drugstore this summer.
Here’s what you need to know this year to stay safe under the sun.
“Sweatproof” no more
One of the changes the FDA made to sunscreen products has to do with the language used on the labels. The days of slathering on “sunblock” that is “waterproof” and “sweatproof” are over, since the FDA decided these terms are not scientifically proven and may lead to a false understanding of what the product can do to protect you from the sun.
Calling protective creams “sunblock” is misleading because no product can block 100 percent of UVA or UVB rays, so “sunscreen” is more accurate. And, although Banana Boat or Coppertone may create products that can withstand a certain amount of sweating or swimming and still offer protection, it’s false to say they are “sweatproof” or “waterproof,” because they will, eventually, wash off.
Instead of looking for these keywords this summer, instead check for a listing of how long the product will last through sweat and water. They now say they will last between 40 and 80 minutes, so you know when to reapply.
Protecting against a truly “broad” spectrum of damage
Before the FDA’s new regulations, sunscreens could claim they offered “broad spectrum” protection from UVA and UVB rays, so long as they prevented sunburn. However, the FDA decided that a distinction between these rays was important for the health of the consumer.
Because some sunscreens protect against only UVA or only UVB, but can still have a high “SPF”, the FDA changed the rules a bit. Now, if the product does not protect against both UVA and UVB rays equally, or only has SPF 15, it must carry a warning: “This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”
No more SPF 70
For a while we were told that the higher the sun protection factor (SPF), the more protection – meaning SPF 100 was much better for you than SPF 45. Then we were told that no product really protects you more than SPF 30, even if it has a higher number.
The FDA’s new regulations state that sunscreen labels can only state their sun protection factor is 50 – unless the company can prove to the FDA that their product actually provides more protection than that.
Keep in mind that the the SPF does not refer to the amount of time you can spend outside without getting a burn – they actually mean the amount of UVB protection the cream or spray offers. In fact, SPF 15 shields 93 percent of UVB rays, SPF 30 shields 97 percent, and SPF 50 filters out 98 percent.
These new regulations went into effect June 18, so slather on a broad spectrum, SPF 50 sunscreen after then and know you’re being fully protected from the sun’s damaging rays.