It seems like every summer, the Food and Drug Administration comes out with new finger-wagging statements and warnings galore about sunscreen. This year, most sunscreens must conform to newly enacted FDA labeling guidelines, which aim to make consumers less confused.
Unfortunately, there are still so many misconceptions, it's enough to make your head spin. But lest we risk getting burned (in more ways than one!), it seems to pay to be ultra-discriminating about the kind of block we're slapping on. Here, the real scoop on the new rules you need to know ...
- Use of the label “broad spectrum protection” now means the sunscreen has been proved to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. But UVA protection may be comparatively weaker.
- Any sunscreen that has an SPF lower than 15 must carry a label warning that it will not protect against skin cancer. Duh, right? But I guess it's good to have the reminder for people who think they're somehow super-protected wearing SPF 4.
- There's no such thing as "waterproof" sunscreen or sunblock anymore. Products can claim to be water-resistant, which sounds more realistic. They also have to note a time limit of either 40 or 80 minutes before the sunscreen is ineffective, which sounds pretty helpful.
- Although many experts believe they're misleading and won't necessarily protect us better, sunscreens with SPFs over 50 are still hanging out on shelves. (Though their days may soon be numbered, depending on what the FDA decides in its current "evaluation.") The consensus seems to be that if you do opt for a high SPF sunscreen, remember that reapplication is still necessary and it may not guard that much more than a product with a lower SPF value.
- You may want to steer clear of sunscreen sprays, which are under the microscope by the FDA. (In the meantime, sunscreen powders have been banned.) The concern: Not enough sunscreen makes it onto the skin, and that the spray may be inhaled into the lungs.
- Avoiding certain chemicals and additives in sunscreens could make all the difference in long and short-term protection. For instance, while the FDA claims there's no evidence to suggest vitamin A, retinol, or its derivatives, such as retinyl palmitate and retinyl acetate, are harmful, Canadian health authorities are concerned that the additives increase sun sensitivity. They've actually proposed requiring that sunscreens with retinyl palmitate carry a warning saying they can increase the possibility of a sunburn for up to a week. Wow.
- And let's not forget how oxybenzone -- which is in just about all products that aren't "physical sunblock," which instead use the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide -- readily absorbs into the body and has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, cell damage, even low birth weight in baby girls whose mothers are exposed during pregnancy.
What do you make of the new rules? What kind of sunblock do you plan on using this summer?