Lovetoknow.com recently contacted me (Dr. Palm) wanting to know the scoop on changes in Sunscreen Labeling for the coming year according to the new FDA 2012 Rule.
Here are some of their questions and my answers below.
1. The FDA’s new sunscreen regulations can make consumers worried and confused. How can they be sure they are choosing sunscreen that offers adequate and appropriate protection for their needs?
“There are two important things to look for…1. That the sunscreen is “broad-spectrum” meaning that it covers both UVA and UVB rays and that the SPF is sufficient. The FDA recommends a Sun Protection Factor of 15, many dermatologists including myself prefer at least 30 SPF.”
2. Consumers could also be confused about UVA and UVB protection. Can you briefly explain the, and why people need to be protected from both kinds of rays?and UVB cover different wavelengths of the ultraviolet spectrum of light radiation. UVA are longer wavelengths (340-400 nm)–I usually tell patients that the “A” in UVA stands for “Aging”–UVA can cause skin aging effects related to significant sun exposure and UV exposure. These include sun spots, pigmentation, and wrinkling related to sun exposure. UVA has been related to some melanomas.”
UVB are shorter wavelengths (290-320 nm). UVB is blocked by window glass, but UVA is not. The “B” in UVB can bring to mind “Burning.” UVB is related to the red sunburn response seen after significant sun exposure. UVB is strongly related to the formation of nonmelanoma skin cancers including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Because both wavelengths have carcinogenic potential, a broad band spectrum sunscreen protecting against UVA and UVB is necessary.
3. Many people buy sunscreen according to the SPF level. Under the new guidelines, will the SPF level still be as important, or is it more important consumers purchase one labeled broad spectrum?
“As explained above, these labels mean different things. SPF refers to the level of UVB protection. Broad spectrum coverage refers to the sunscreen’s ability to protect against both UVA and UVB. Both are important, and understanding the difference is crucial to selecting an adequate sunscreen.”
4. How will consumers be able to tell the difference between a sunscreen that was labeled according to the new regulations?
“These are relatively subtle changes in nomenclature–the way of describing the sunscreens. Waterproof is gone, replaced by water resistant and very water resistant. Broad spectrum will mean coverage against both UVA and UVB.”
5. Many budget-conscious consumers purchase sunscreen at discount and closeout stores. After the FDA deadline, will these places still be able to carry sunscreen with the old labels? If so, what should consumers look for in the labeling to be best protected?
“My understanding is that these products can still be displayed as long as they are not expired. Products manufactured after the new FDA rule is in place will have to abide by the new Rules. Consumers should look for labels stating both UVA and UVB coverage. Ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, Mexoryl, and avobenzone (oxybenzone) are key ingredients for adequate UVA coverage. An SPF of 30 or above should be sought for adequate UVB coverage.”
6. The new rules won’t allow sunscreen to be labeled waterproof, only water-resistant. How long does a sunscreen, even one labeled water-resistant, really last?
“Water resistant is defined as sunscreen effective for at least 40 minutes of activity in the water. Very water resistant allows for 80 minutes. Sunscreens are strictly tested to be awarded this designation. However, patients are encouraged to reapply sunscreens after heavy activity including water sports by many dermatologists. At a minimum, most dermatologists recommend reapplication every hour and one-half to two hours when outside.”
7. Do you have any other tips on what individuals should consider when it comes to purchasing their sunscreen protection?
“Choose a formulation you will use. If a product is thick and a body area needing to be covered is hair-bearing, this does not make for a good outcome. Apply sunscreen evenly and liberally. Rub in spray on products. Furthermore, the vast majority of consumers under-apply sunscreen. A full one-ounce should be applied to the body with each application (size of a shot glass). This means a typical bottle of sunscreen should only last 4 applications.”