By Dr. Sarah Khan, resident pharmacist for DietsInReview.com
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced its proposal for new regulations affecting the way information on sunscreens is presented to consumers, citing that current standards for sunscreen package labeling haven’t been updated since 1978 and may be misleading or confusing.
“FDA has evaluated the data and developed testing and labeling requirements for sunscreen products, so that manufacturers can modernize their product information and consumers can be well-informed on which products offer the greatest benefit,” said Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “These changes to sunscreen labels are an important part of helping consumers have the information they need so they can choose the right sun protection for themselves and their families.”
First, it’s best to understand the different types of radiation from the sun: UVA and UVB. UVA is the type of radiation associated with gaining a bronze glow, and can be found in tanning beds. Sunburns are caused by UVB radiation and are what the SPF in your sunscreen protects against. (SPF is the sun protection factor.) Currently these numbers range from 2 to about 70+. Both UVA and UVB radiation are linked to skin cancer. Most sunscreens currently available do have protection against UVA and UVB.
The new regulations promote a change in terminology:
- Sunscreens that have UVA and UVB protection will be known as broad spectrum. SPF, which protects from UVB radiation, will remain on the package.
- SPF ratings 15 and above will be permitted to state that they protect against early skin aging and reduce the risk of skin cancer. SPF’s below 15 help prevent sunburn but offer no other protection.
- The highest SPF rating will be 50+ as studies have shown there is no additional benefit gained beyond this.
- Waterproof or sweat proof sunscreens will be vigorously tested to determine the exact amount of time they provide sun protection. This helps consumers know how often it’s necessary to reapply in order to reduce the risk of burning. Most sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours, which is the longest amount of time allowed.
The new regulations take effect June 18, 2012, but the FDA hopes these new regulations will be put in to practice sooner. Smaller companies have two years to comply with the guidelines.
There are ways to reduce your risk of sun exposure, like staying in the shade, covering your skin with more clothing, and wearing sunglasses with UV protection.