New sunscreen labeling guidelines released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration yesterday will help people headed outdoors better protect their skin from the sun, according to federal health officials.
The new guidelines will require sunscreen labels to disclose whether a sunscreen protects against a broad spectrum of sunlight and how long it remains effective while swimming or sweating.
Previous labeling rules required that manufacturers consider only ultraviolet B wavelengths of light (UVB), but the new rules require manufacturers to also disclose whether a given sunblock protects against ultraviolet A rays (UVA). UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn, research has shown that UVA rays also damage skin and carries a risk of cancer.
Under the new rule, which goes into effect before next summer, only sunscreen products that offer protection from both UVA and UVB can be labeled “Broad Spectrum.” The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) will still be used to indicated the overall level of sun protection.
“Broad Spectrum sunscreens with SPF values of 15 or higher help protect against not only sunburn, but also skin cancer and early skin aging when used as directed with other sun protection measures,” the FDA wrote on its website. “These sun protection measures include limiting time in the sun and wearing protective clothing.”
The new rules will also prevent manufacturers from labeling sunscreens as “waterproof” or “sweatproof,” or identify their products as “sunblocks,” because these claims overstate their effectiveness. Sunscreens can be labeled as “water resistant,” but must indicate whether the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating. Those that are not water resistant have to instructing consumers to use a water resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating.
The FDA offered the following suggestions for protecting skin from the sun:
- Limiting time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
- Wearing clothing to cover skin exposed to the sun (long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and broad-brimmed hats).
- Using a water resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating.
- Reapplying sunscreen, even if it is labeled as water resistant, at least every 2 hours. (Water resistant sunscreens should be reapplied more often after swimming or sweating, according to the directions on the label.)
Here is the FDA’s explanation of the logic behind adding UVA considerations to the labeling: