The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently unveiled their new regulations for sunscreens that will take effect for all sunscreens by 2013. I’ll break it all down below.
One of the biggest changes is how sunscreen labels use the term “broad spectrum” protection. You have probably seen sunscreens state “Broad Spectrum SPF XX”, with “XX” being the SPF value of that sunscreen. The problem is that SPF is a measure of protection against sunburn, which is generally caused by ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. This does not factor in ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, which is what has been linked to skin cancer and skin aging. Previously, if a sunscreen provided just a fraction of UVA protection but offered an SPF 30 value of protection against UVB rays, it could be labeled “Broad Spectrum SPF 30″. Under the new regulations, for a sunscreen to carry the broad spectrum label it must prove through testing to have a level of UVA protection in proportion to the UVB protection and SPF value listed on the sunscreen.
The sunscreen label terms “sunblock”, “waterproof”, and “sweatproof” will no longer be allowed under the new regulations. The FDA has decided that these terms over represent the effectiveness of sunscreens. In addition, companies will have to show proof and be granted acceptance by the FDA to indicate on labels that they offer protection for greater than two hours without reapplication or that they offer immediate protection upon initial application. Also, only broad spectrum sunscreens with SPF values of 15 or greater will be able to claim that they reduce the risk of skin cancer and skin aging.
Labeling a sunscreen as water resistant will still be allowed, but with conditions. Sunscreens labeled as water resistant must state how long they are effective under normal conditions (40 minutes or 80 minutes). Sunscreens that are not water resistant must also have labeling that says to use water resistant sunscreens if swimming or sweating.
The new regulations do not change the fact that you should use a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15 or more every single day. You should also continue to avoid unnecessary sun exposure, especially when the sun is most intense between 10 am and 2 pm. Finally, you should continue to reapply sunscreen often (at least every two hours) and use water resistant sunscreen when you swim or sweat. Really, the only thing the new regulations should change for you is your level of confidence that you are being protected in a manner consistent with the labeling of the sunscreen.