With new labeling rules announced today, the Food and Drug Administration is trying to shed more light on an oddly confusing and opaque consumer product: sunscreen. The new requirements won't take full effect until next summer, but the agency says consumers should start seeing some changes before then.
Above all, the FDA's announcement is a reminder that despite advances in sunscreens - including the various "ultra-waterproof and -sweatproof" claims made by some brands - no sunscreen offers perfect or reliable all-day protection. The FDA's guidance advises "reapplying sunscreen, even if it is labeled as water resistant, at least every 2 hours" - and more frequently after swimming or sweating.
Here are some of the key changes - you can find more details here on the FDA's website:
Broad Spectrum designation. Sunscreens that pass FDA's broad spectrum test procedure, which measures a product's UVA protection relative to its UVB protection, may be labeled as "Broad Spectrum SPF [value]" on the front label. For Broad Spectrum sunscreens, SPF values also indicate the amount or magnitude of overall protection. Broad Spectrum SPF products with SPF values higher than 15 provide greater protection and may claim additional uses, as described in the next bullet.
Use claims. Only Broad Spectrum sunscreens with an SPF value of 15 or higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging if used as directed with other sun protection measures. Non-Broad Spectrum sunscreens and Broad Spectrum sunscreens with an SPF value between 2 and 14 can only claim to help prevent sunburn.
"Waterproof, "sweatproof" or "sunblock" claims. Manufacturers cannot label sunscreens as "waterproof" or "sweatproof," or identify their products as "sunblocks," because these claims overstate their effectiveness. Sunscreens also cannot claim to provide sun protection for more than 2 hours without reapplication or to provide protection immediately after application (for example-- "instant protection") without submitting data to support these claims and obtaining FDA approval.
Water resistance claims. Water resistance claims on the front label must indicate whether the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing. Sunscreens that are not water resistant must include a direction instructing consumers to use a water resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating.