Sunscreen Rules: Changes Simplify Label Language

UT MD Anderson experts comment on biggest upcoming FDA sunscreen changes

MD Anderson News Release 05/07/12

Sunscreen labels can be confusing and at times misleading. That’s why dermatologists at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center applaud the upcoming U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) label changes that help consumers understand exactly what they’re buying.

“This is good news because choosing the right sunscreen — and applying it correctly — can help protect your skin from harmful UV rays that can cause skin cancer,” said Carol Drucker, M.D., associate professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Dermatology.

Starting in June, sunscreen makers will be required to use labels with simpler language. Listed below are the biggest changes consumers can expect to see.

Labels force manufacturers to be honest

Here’s what the new sunscreen labels must — and must not — tell consumers:

Sunblocks: No product completely shields users from the sun. So, sunscreens won’t be labeled as “sunblock” anymore.

SPF level: A sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more means a product lowers the risk of skin cancer and aging. Not so for SPFs from 2 to 14; they only help prevent sunburn at best. Sunscreen labels will have to be clear about how much SPF they provide — and whether they actually curb a person’s risk of skin cancer and aging, or just help prevent sunburns.

Broad spectrum: To be labeled “broad spectrum,” sunscreens must provide equal protection against the sun’s two types of radiation: UVB and UVA. Both types can lead to cancer. UVA causes more wrinkles; UVB causes sunburns.

“Waterproof” and “sweatproof” claims will disappear: Sunscreens can only say how long they offer water resistant protection. And, they’ve got to back up these promises with test results.

Instant protection: Sunscreens can’t say they provide “instant protection” or protect skin for more than two hours unless the FDA approves these claims for the specific sunscreen in question.

Choose sunscreen by preference and apply it liberally and often

“Even after these changes go into effect, the single most important factor in picking a sunscreen is finding one you like. Sunscreen comes in creams, lotions, sprays, gels, wax sticks and wipes,” Drucker said. “If you buy one with a texture you like, you’ll use it more often.”

For safe fun in the sun, Drucker recommends using sunscreen that:

  • Provides SPF 30 or higher
  • Has broad-spectrum protection (UVA and UVB)
  • Is water-resistant

Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. And, be sure to reapply liberally every two hours.

“To really protect your skin, you should apply one ounce of sunscreen — the size of a golf ball — to every part of your body exposed to the sun,” Drucker said. “That includes your ears, feet and back of the neck.”

For additional tips on sun-safety and skin cancer prevention, visit