What Your Sunscreen Label Tells You
Last June, the FDA released some new sunscreen labeling guidelines that are scheduled to go into full effect this June (although manufacturers may have already begun implementing them). These guidelines are designed to provide consumers with the information they need to make the best choice in sun protection. Here’s what the new labels will tell you:
Broad Spectrum Protection
UV-B radiation causes sunburn, but recent research shows that UV-A radiation, which doesn’t cause visible signs of sun damage, is linked to an increased risk of skin cancer. As a result, sunscreens are starting to include protection against both types of UV radiation. Those that do will be labeled “broad spectrum” protection.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
What the sun protection factor is or how it’s determined is very complicated. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates SPF values, which require sophisticated phototesting to be determined. Interpretations of these values can be misleading, but essentially, SPF indicates the multiple amount of UV radiation that will cause sunburn with the sunscreen product compared to without.
For example, a product with SPF 15 means that it will take 15 times the UV radiation to cause sunburn on skin where the product has been applied as directed compared to skin where no product is used. SPF should not be translated as the number of minutes or hours someone wearing the sunscreen is able to be in the sun without experiencing burning or other sun damage.
For maximum SPF effectiveness, sunscreen must be as directed:
- Applied in adequate amounts—approximately one full ounce to cover your body, and
- Reapplied per label instructions—generally, every 40-80 minutes
Regardless of SPF, the actual effectiveness of any sunscreen product depends on many factors, including:
- Wearer’s skin type
- Intensity of sun exposure (maximum intensity is between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, which varies slightly by altitude and proximity to the equator)
- Rate of degradation of sunscreen ingredients when exposed to UV
New labeling regulations state that no sunscreen can claim an SPF value over 50. No evidence convincingly shows that an SPF over 50 provides better protection.
Sunscreen Label Language
According to the new regulations, broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher may state on their label that they reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging (when used as directed).
If a sunscreen product is not broad spectrum or provides an SPF lower than 15, labels must include a warning that the product has not been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early aging.
Sunscreens are no longer able to use the words “sun block” on their labels, as no ingredient has been proven to block all UV spectrum radiation. Sunscreens can no longer claim to be “waterproof” or “sweatproof” but may use the terms “water resistant.”
Finding the Right Sunscreen
The new FDA sunscreen labeling guidelines are designed to inform consumers without misleading them. Essentially, read the labels to find a broad spectrum sun protection product with SPF 15 or higher.
- Avoiding sunscreen with parabens and PABA, common skin allergens and endocrine disruptors
- Sunscreens with moisturizers
If you’re looking for a new sunscreen product, check out our Surya SPF-35+ formula.