Cutting Through the Confusion About Sunscreen

It's important to practice good sun safety, and that includes using sunscreen. But with thousands of products on the market, it can be hard to know how to choose the best one. To help protect consumers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in the process of updating their requirements for sunscreen labeling.

University of Michigan Health System dermatologists offer tips for protecting yourself and your loved ones, along with guidance to help understand the FDA's new rules about sunscreen:

  • No matter what sunscreen you use, some radiation always gets through to your skin—so using sunscreen alone isn't enough.
  • When possible, avoid peak sun exposure (between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.).
  • If you do go out, seek shade and wear protective clothing, including a hat with a brim and sunglasses.
  • It's wise to double up on protection by applying sunscreen as well. Don't forget to protect ears, noses, lips, and the tops of feet.
  • Hardly anyone applies enough sunscreen. It takes about a shot glass worth of sunscreen (one ounce) to cover the exposed areas of the body. Slather it on!
  • Sunscreens also need to be reapplied every two hours, or more frequently, if you are swimming, sweating or have toweled off.
  • Put on sunscreen 15-30 minutes before sun exposure, regardless of the weather.
  • The sun's harmful ultraviolet rays come in two types: UVA and UVB. Currently, a sunscreen's SPF (sun protection factor) rating only measures how long it will protect you from UVB rays.
  • The American Academy of Dermatology recommends selecting a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, whose ingredients protect against both UVB and UVA.

The FDA recently updated labeling requirements to help consumers make good choices.
Under those rules, the terms "waterproof" and "sweatproof" may no longer be used. In order to be labeled water-resistant or sweat-resistant, the sunscreen must pass FDA tests to prove their claims. The label must also tell how long those effects will last.

The term "sunblock" is also out, since no sunscreen can block all of the sun's rays.
In the future, the term "broad spectrum" will indicate a level of protection offered from both UVA and UVB rays.
Remember, only broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF value of 15 or higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging – and that's only if they're used correctly and in conjunction with other sun protection measures.

Source: University of Michigan Health System