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Starting this summer the FDA’s new regulations on sunscreen labeling go into effect. While the bottles may look the same, the fine print on the back will be different. The measures are designed to help consumers select the product that offers them the best protection and avoid confusion. The regulations also include strict testing guidelines for manufacturers.

Here is what you need to know.

SPF is important: This is the number that measures the protection against sunburn due to Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Under the new regulations, products will able to have a rating of up to 50. Products that are rated higher than 50 will now be labeled as 50+. The FDA states that they do not have adequate data demonstrating that products with SPF greater than 50 provide significant additional protection. They want to avoid giving consumers a false sense of security about sun exposure. In fact, sunscreens with an SPF 30-50 should provide adequate protection. The SPF numbers higher than 50 are a marketing ploy and may provide only 1% greater benefit. The most important message is that all sunscreens need to be reapplied after a few hours or sooner if you are sweating or swimming.  

Water resistance claims: Labels can no longer state that sunscreens are waterproof or sweat proof because all of them wash or wear off. The new labels can say “water-resistant” and must state if the sunscreen is effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating. In other words, do they need to be reapplied after 40 or 80 minutes. The manufacturers must also back up the claims with testing.

Broad Spectrum claims: Sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB can be labeled broad spectrum. In order to make this claim, the product must pass the FDA’s standard broad spectrum test.

Sunscreen is not enough: All broad spectrum sunscreens will now carry this additional warning “Sunscreen can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging if used as directed-in combination with: limiting time in the midday sun between 10 and 2 and wearing long sleeved shirts, pants, hats and sunglasses. “

What is not on the labels? The sunscreen base or formulation is important. Oil free products are good for acne prone skin. But the gels or non-greasy products do not stay on as well when you are sweating. Spray on sunscreen is convenient and makes it easy to cover legs, arms and body. Be sure to apply liberally. It takes a shot glass full of sunscreen to cover your body if you are in a swimsuit.

Will the new labeling help consumers make better choices and better protect their skin? I think they will – if consumers take the time to read the fine print.

Buying the right sunscreen is only step one. You have to get in the habit of protecting all exposed skin when you are outdoors and reapplying sunscreen as directed.

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