The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is putting tighter controls on sunscreen claims and labeling. That's good news. The new rules will ensure you know just what kind of sun protection you're getting for your money.
We're all accustomed to picking a sunscreen based on its sun protection factor - SPF for short. But SPF measures only one kind of ultraviolet radiation: UVB rays. These rays, which have relatively short wavelengths and penetrate only the upper layers of your skin, cause sunburn and skin cancer.
But there's another kind of light called UVA, which makes up 95% of the ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
These longer-wavelength rays penetrate your skin more deeply than UVBs and can cause skin cancer.
Starting next summer, sunscreens must state whether or not they protect against UVA rays, not just UVB rays. If you see “Broad Spectrum SPF” on the label, you'll know the sunscreen protects against both types of ultraviolet radiation. And the SPF value will indicate the degree of that protection.
This means only broad spectrum sunscreens with SPF values of 15 and up can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and wrinkling, and only if you use them as directed and with other protective measures. Sunscreens that don't carry the broad spectrum label or have an SPF of 2 to 14 will only help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or wrinkles.
Also, sunscreens will no longer be labeled as waterproof, sweatproof or sunblocks. Sunscreens labeled as water-resistant are permitted, but the label must indicate whether it will work for 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating.
Lastly, SPF values will be capped at 50+ because the FDA doesn't believe values above 50 provide any additional protection. This is to prevent you from thinking a 100 SPF will give you "super" protection.
Until the new labels start appearing next summer, you can check the ingredients for avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or ecamsule, also known as Mexoryl SX. All are generally contained in effective broad spectrum sunscreens according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
To get the best protection out of any sunscreen, follow all directions, use the proper amount and reapply frequently. The FDA recommends reapplying at least every two hours, and more often while you're swimming or sweating.