We all know we should wear sunscreen daily, but most people still only routinely wear sunscreen when they’re going to be out in the sun for prolonged periods during outdoor activities such as playing at the beach, going to the pool, taking a long bike ride, playing sports, or gardening. No matter when or where you use sunscreen, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has enacted some new guidelines all consumers should know about in order to make informed choices about their sun protection.
Here’s what you need to know, straight from the FDA (click for more):
- If you’re looking at a store display and wondering where all the waterproof sunblock is, you’re not going to find it. Sunscreens can no longer be sold as “sunblock,” nor can they be labeled, “sweatproof” or “waterproof.” The FDA says, “Water resistance claims on the product's front label must tell how much time a user can expect to get the declared SPF level of protection while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing. Two times will be permitted on labels: 40 minutes or 80 minutes.”
- There are new rules defining when a sunscreen can be called “Broad Spectrum.” Although the rules are in place now, manufacturers have a grace period (until December 17, 2012) to come into compliance, as the FDA did not want to cause a sunscreen shortage during the summer months. For consumers, this means that some products may still be on shelves this summer that do not meet the new standards for “broad spectrum” sunscreen.
- “Broad Spectrum” is the label to look for when purchasing sunscreen. The FDA says, “Products that pass the broad spectrum test will provide protection against both ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) and ultraviolet A radiation (UVA). Sunburn is primarily caused by UVB. Both UVB and UVA can cause sunburn, skin cancer, and premature skin aging. A certain percentage of a broad spectrum product’s total protection is against UVA.”
- Also, be aware that, “Under the new regulations, sunscreen products that protect against all types of sun-induced skin damage will be labeled ‘Broad Spectrum’ and ‘SPF 15’ (or higher) on the front…By contrast, any sunscreen not labeled as ‘Broad Spectrum’ or that has an SPF value between 2 and 14, has only been shown to help prevent sunburn.”
What does it all mean?
The key for consumers to recognize here is that the products you’ve thought of as “waterproof” or “broad spectrum” are not being removed from the market but, rather, are being required to be more specific and clear in their labeling and to pass stringent testing to ensure that all labeling claims are accurate. So there’s no need to run out and stock up on your favorite waterproof brands; they’re not disappearing.
So, that begs the question, when do you need to buy new sunscreen? Here are some tips:
- Sunscreen in the bottle should maintain its full efficacy for three years.
- Keep in mind that some sunscreen may have been on a store shelf or in a warehouse for months prior to purchase, so it’s safer to assume it will only last at full efficacy for two years.
- Also, note that sunscreen loses strength through prolonged heat exposure. So, leaving your sunscreen in your car or beach bag, while important so it’s close at hand, does decrease its overall strength with time, meaning you should replace your bottles more often if they’re exposed to extreme temperatures.
- Finally, if you’re using enough sunscreen and reapplying often enough, you should run out of sunscreen pretty regularly! So keep an eye out for sales and stock up!