New Rules for Sunscreens

FDA guidelines help you choose the right sunscreen

bottle of sunscreen

Help is here to give you and your skin more protection against sun damage.

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has instituted new labeling guidelines for sunscreen manufacturers. The new labeling gives you more complete information on how effectively that particular sunscreen protects you from the sun’s harmful rays.

Melissa Piliang, MD, of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Dermatology, says the new guidelines help “make the information more streamlined and consistent over the brands [of sunscreen].”

Full labeling information is required to be on all sunscreens by the end of 2012. Several brands contain at least some of the guidelines already.

A quick look at the new FDA sunscreen guidelines:

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Broad spectrum effectiveness

All sunscreens must be “broad spectrum” —  effective against both the sun’s potentially harmful ultraviolet UVA and UVB rays. UVB causes sunburn and increases skin cancer risk. UVA promotes premature skin aging by penetrating deeper into skin, and also can be a skin cancer risk.

Both UVA and UVB protections are necessary, says Dr. Piliang, to guard against all kinds of sun-induced skin damage. To be classified as broad spectrum, the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) number on the sunscreen must be at least 15.

SPF lower than 15

If the SPF is lower than 15 (SPF 2 to 14) the label will read, “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.” Dr. Piliang says, “Some people buy an 8 SPF thinking they get some protection, but it’s minimal. It’s just not adequate.”

More water-resistance information

Under the new FDA guidelines a sunscreen can’t claim to be waterproof or sweatproof. Instead, it will indicate either a 40- or 80-minute water-resistance time limit. These give you an idea of how long the sunscreen will last before you have to reapply it, says Dr. Piliang.  If you plan on swimming for just a half-hour, for example, you can safely use a 40-minute sunscreen.

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Remember: more is better

Not in the guidelines, but always critically important, says Dr Piliang, is applying enough sunscreen to give yourself proper protection.

“The two biggest mistakes people make is not applying enough product, and not reapplying it often enough. One ounce (shot glass-size) of sunscreen is needed to cover your body. If you apply less than an ounce to cover yourself, you’re not getting full protection.”



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