Does Your Sunscreen Have You Covered?
At current rates, 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. This is why it is important for people to protect themselves and their loved ones from the sun’s harmful rays. Like many over-the-counter products, not all sunscreens are created equal. Some sunscreens provide higher sun protection, while others contain ingredients that are better suited for children’s skin. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to help protect consumers from skin damage caused by excessive sun exposure as well as to help them understand that not all sunscreens are created equal.
New sunscreen labeling requirements implemented by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will take the guesswork out of choosing an effective sunscreen with the best sun protection. Jones Dermatology would like to do its part in helping you understand what all of it means. Sunscreen labels will now have information about whether a sunscreen will protect against skin cancer in addition to sunburn. It is important for consumers to read the entire label, both front and back, in order to choose the appropriate sunscreen for their needs. Everyone is potentially susceptible to sunburn and the other detrimental effects of exposure to UV radiation.
Products will need to meet the specifications to deliver broad spectrum protection against both ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) and ultraviolet A radiation (UVA). Sunburn is primarily caused by UVB. Both UVB and UVA can cause sunburn, skin cancer, and premature skin aging. A certain percentage of a broad spectrum product’s total protection is against UVA. Under the new regulations, sunscreen products that protect against all types of sun-induced skin damage will be labeled “Broad Spectrum” and “SPF 15” (or higher) on the front.
The new labeling will also tell consumers on the back of the product that sunscreens labeled as both “Broad Spectrum” and “SPF 15” (or higher) not only protect against sunburn, but, if used as directed with other sun protection measures, can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. For these broad spectrum products, higher SPF (Sun Protection Factor) values also indicate higher levels of overall protection. By contrast, any sunscreen not labeled as “Broad Spectrum” or that has an SPF value between 2 and 14, has only been shown to help prevent sunburn.
To help consumers select and use sunscreens appropriately, the final regulations include this information on the labeling:
- Sunscreen products that are not broad spectrum or that are broad spectrum with SPF values from 2 to14 will be labeled with a warning that reads: “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”
- Water resistance claims on the product’s front label must tell how much time a user can expect to get the declared SPF level of protection while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing. Two times will be permitted on labels: 40 minutes or 80 minutes.
- Manufacturers cannot make claims that sunscreens are “waterproof” or “sweatproof” or identify their products as “sunblocks.” Also, sunscreens cannot claim protection immediately on application (for example, “instant protection”) or protection for more than two hours without reapplication, unless they submit data and get approval from FDA.
Sun Safety Tips
Spending time in the sun increases the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. To reduce this risk, consumers should regularly use sun protection measures including:
- Use sunscreens with broad spectrum SPF values of 15 or higher regularly and as directed.
- Limit time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense.
- Wear clothing to cover skin exposed to the sun; for example, long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and broad-brimmed hats.
- Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, more often if you’re sweating or jumping in and out of the water.
It is our hope that we have shed some light on the subject and have given you the information you need when choosing sunscreen.