Food and Drug Administration

New Sunscreen Rules: Why You Should Care

June 15, 2011 at 7:34 am , by

Closeup of beautiful woman spreading sunscreen on her shoulderFinally, the gavel has dropped on the Food and Drug Administration’s new sunscreen rules. By next year, sunscreen manufacturers will have to pass a standard test to claim broad-spectrum protection.

Dermatologists across the country are rejoicing in the streets. Okay, not exactly, but they are pretty happy that the FDA has gotten around to issuing a ruling, says Ronald Moy, M.D., president of the American Academy of Dermatology. “This has been years in the making. It’s going to make it a lot easier for consumers to find a product that they can be sure is protecting them from UVA as well as UVB rays,” he says.

I know what many of you are thinking: What’s the big deal?  That’s how I felt when I started doing research for our June story about getting the most out of your sunscreen. But I learned that finding the right product and applying it correctly is a lot more complicated than I thought.

We’re all familiar with the Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, but that only accounts for protection against UVB. While UVB rays are what cause dreadful burns, the lesser-known UVA rays penetrate deeper into your skin. Experts used to think exposure to UVB alone was what caused skin cancer, but we now know that in addition to being the main cause of wrinkles, UVA rays also play a major role in the development of skin cancer.

Until now, products could claim broad-spectrum protection without any basis for it. Maybe you didn’t leave the beach the color of a tomato, but your sunscreen may not have been shielding you from the more subtle damage caused by UVA. So in other words, this is a really big deal. And organizations like The Skin Cancer Foundation, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and the American Academy of Dermatology are applauding the changes.

Claims like “waterproof” or “sweatproof” are also being banned from sunscreen because those terms are inaccurate and make people feel like they don’t have to reapply, says Dr. Moy. The FDA also proposed that SPF labeling be capped at 50, since there is little evidence that those super-high SPFs work any better. “You’ll never get 100 percent coverage from a sunscreen, so these changes take away the false sense of security,” says Dr. Moy.

Companies have a year to comply with the new rules, so to save your skin this summer you’ve still got to take a look at the ingredients list. Check out “Screen Test,” our guide from the June issue, to learn what to look for in your sunscreen and how to apply it for best results.

Photo copyright goodluz, fotolia.com.