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FDA Sheds Light on Sunscreens

Since 1978, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been promising that they would provide guidance to consumers about the safety and efficacy of sunscreens. Now, 33 years later, the FDA has made good on its promise. Mostly. (There are still a few holes.)

This is welcome information. Sun damage and skin cancer are more of a threat than ever. Dermatologists recommend that everyone use sunscreen, but they haven’t been able to offer much guidance about which sunscreens might be the best. And the manufacturers who rake in about $680 million have been making false or misleading claims about the protection offered by their products. The new FDA information will make manufacturers more  accountable, and will give dermatologists and consumers more confidence about the protection offered by sunscreens.

Cool! So, here’s what you need to know, in a nutshell:

  • The new regulations will become effective in one year, so for now, you’ll have to read labels a little more closely.
  • There are two main kinds of sun radiation: UVA, which causes wrinkling and cancer; and UVB, which also causes causes cancer, and also causes sunburn. That’s why it’s important to protect against both types of radiation.
  • 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.
  • A sunscreen will not be considered protective against sunburn and cancer unless it has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. 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–not cancer.
  • Manufacturers will no longer be able to claim that sunscreens are “waterproof” or “sweatproof.” There is, in fact, no such thing. Once the regulations go into effect, a sunscreen may be called “water resistant,” and 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 will no longer be able to call products “sunblock.” Radiation can only be screened…not blocked.
  • You won’t ever see SPF ratings higher than 50. FDA does not have adequate data demonstrating that products with SPF values higher than 50 provide additional protection compared to products with SPF values of 50.

In addition, the FDA offers these 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.

To read the full FDA article about sunscreens, click here:  FDA Sheds Light on Sunscreens

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