A Guide to the New Sunscreen Labels

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established new sunscreen labeling to remove some of the industry’s most unsubstantiated marketing claims. While controversy surrounds some aspects of the new labeling policies, many experts concur that they should protect the public better than the former system. The information below discusses the changes.

  • Broad Spectrum: The past decade of research shows sunscreens should guard against both ultraviolet B radiation and ultraviolet A radiation. Under the new guidelines, products that meet these criteria will have the denotation of “Broad Spectrum” on the front. Products that don’t provide this protection and that have SPF values less than 15 must have a warning that sun exposure can lead to aging and skin cancer. Some experts like the Environmental Working Group contend that little scientific evidence suggests sunscreens lower cancer risk.
  • Limit on Maximum SPF Value: Consumers mistakenly assume sunscreens with very high SPF values will prevent skin damage. As a consequence, the use of such products can lead to their spending too much time in the sun. Therefore, the FDA proposed a regulation that would cap the maximum SPF value at 50+.
  • Waterproof and Sweatproof: The FDA no longer permits claims of waterproof or sweatproof. Instead, water resistance labeling must specify how much time a person can expect to receive the declared SPF protection. Standardized testing must support these assertions.
  • Sunscreen Sprays: Due to concerns that sunscreen sprays present an inhalation risk, the FDA will ban sprays unless manufacturers submit data on their safety and effectiveness. Until the companies comply with the data request, the EWG advises consumers to avoid these products.

For more information, see Summer Safety: Effective Sunscreen.

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