Summer’s on the horizon. It’s time to ask yourself, “Should I splurge on the SPF 100 to get extra protection? And, how much extra protection am I really getting?”
Our experts agree: sunscreen labels can be confusing and at times misleading. But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has put rules in place to help you understand exactly what you’re buying.
Now, all United States sunscreen makers are required to use labels with simpler language.
“And, that’s good news for you because choosing the right sunscreen — and applying it correctly — can help protect your skin from harmful UV rays that can cause skin cancer,” says Carol Drucker, M.D., associate professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Dermatology.
Listed below are the biggest changes you can expect to see.
Labels force manufacturers to be honest
Here’s what the new sunscreen labels must — and must not — tell you:
Sunblocks: No product completely shields you 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 skin 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 your risk of skin cancer and skin 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: UVA and UVB. Both types can lead to cancer. UVA gives you 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. That’s unless the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves these claims for the specific sunscreen in question.
Choose a sunscreen you like and apply it liberally and often
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 says. “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 cover every part of your body exposed to the sun,” Drucker says. “That includes your ears, feet and back of the neck.”
Thanks to these new rules, you’ll spend less time decoding sunscreen labels and more time enjoying sun-safe outdoor fun!