Last year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released new rules for labeling of sunscreen that became effective June 2012. The reason being labels were misleading as to how much sun protection and reduction of the risk of skin cancer.
Given I am a very fair skinned person, who does have melanoma (one form of skin cancer) in my family sunscreen has been a must since I was kid. I am a sunscreen fiend, and have worn it every day on my face through moisturizers for the last 20 years.
When these new rules were released I became really interested in finding out the truth about sunscreen, and what we believed to be its effectiveness. I am not writing this as a why chemicals are good and bad, that’s not my intent by any means. My purpose in writing this post is to help you understand the basics of sunscreen labels. I’m not an expert, I just wanted to help all of you figure out what’s best for you and your family.
UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS
What does UVA and UVB mean? This question has been a source of major confusion to me, with all of the changes relying heavily on the language regarding UV rays its imperative to understand their meaning, and damage.
UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, and are the leading cause of skin aging. UVA rays have the same intensity all day long. This means that time of day has no bearing on the intensity of the UVA rays. Plus 95% of the UV rays on Earth are UVA. These rays are what make you tan, and are used in tanning beds
UVB rays are more intense than UVA, however their maximum intensity is generally from 10 AM to 4 PM, and are damaging all year round. Although UVA rays penetrate through the skin UVB rays are most damaging to the top layer of skin, which is why it is the main contributing factor to skin cancer. These rays are also the rays that cause redness in burning.
UVA & UVB together can also be referred to as “Broad Spectrum”.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
How many of us have no idea what the numbers mean on the label of sunscreen? If you did I give you props, because I truly did not know what it meant.
It indicates how long it will take for UVB rays to redden skin when using sunscreen compared to how long skin would take to redden without protection. For instance, someone using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will take 15 times longer to redden than without the sunscreen. - Skin Cancer Foundation
MAKING YOUR SUNSCREEN WORK AT ITS BEST
- Putting sunscreen on while outside will not fully protect you from the sun. You are exposed to UV rays as soon as you are outside. Putting sunscreen on while outside diminishes sunscreen’s ability to protect your skin.
- Sunscreen takes 20 minutes to be fully effective. If you put sunscreen on inside then walk outside you will have no sun protection until at minimum 20 minutes. It takes approximately 20 minutes for the ingredients to actually begin working. The exception to this rule is if the sunscreen contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which work right away because they actually put a barrier on your skin on application.
- Sunscreen is not to be put on sparingly. Most people (me included) do not put on enough sunscreen to be truly effective. The AAD and Skin Cancer Foundation both recommend using one ounce (or enough to fill a shot glass) to cover the body in one application. The best way to know you’ve put enough on is that your skin stays wet for 1 to 2 minutes after you finish application. This also goes for spray sunscreens.
- Now I’ll tell you the following really shook me because I am so guilty of this misconception. When any makeup products claims to have any SPF it is only that effective if you slather it on like you would regular sunscreen. Most of us-me included- put on a very thin sheer amount, and that does not allow the SPF to really be at maximum.
All sunscreens need to be reapplied every 2 hours if you go outside. There are no exceptions to this rule.
NEW RULES FOR LABELS
The new regulations put out by the FDA have changed the labeling of sunscreen tremendously in order keep us much more informed about what we are actually getting from our sunscreens in relation to sun protection.
- Any sunscreen with SPF 2 to 14, OR does not have protection from BOTH UVA and UVB rays must disclose that they can help prevent sunburn, and are not allowed to claim to protect against skin cancer.
- The only claims to reducing risk of skin cancer are sunscreens containing SPF 15 or higher AND have broad spectrum protection. Bottom Line: It must have at least SPF 15 and say either 1 of 2 things protects against UVA and UVB or Broad Spectrum to be a truly protective sunscreen.
- The words waterproof, sweatproof and sunblock cannot be used on a label any longer. No sunscreen is truly waterproof because all sunscreens do wash off. In order to claim to be water resistant, which is the only claim allowed on labels when it comes to water, it must “resist” water for a minimum of 40 minutes. Manufacturers cannot put Water Resistent on their labels without submitting testing reports to the FDA proving the sunscreen stayed on for 40 mins or more. Bottom Line: All sunscreens need reapplication, but you can only get protection in water when it claims to be Water Resistant.
- All sunscreens must retain full strength for 3 years, and many brands actually put expiration dates on the bottle. If yours hasn’t consider putting on the purchase date. Of course they can expire sooner, so if you have doubt then throw it out.
SUN EXPOSURE IS EVERYWHERE
In my research I learned so much about sun protection, and many of things I learned were about places I would never think I could be more prone to sun damage.
- Someone sitting at a desk at a window, or in a car has an increased risk of exposure to UVA rays. Unless sitting in front of a UVA blocking window the UVA rays penetrate both windows in your car, and at your desk.
- Wearing white gives no additional sun protection, unless treated to do so. White has no pigment which allows sun to penetrate as if the garment was not worn. It is best to wear something with pigment like red.
- Sunscreen kept in hot places like a car break down the active ingredients of the sunscreen. Limit how much your sunscreen sits in extreme heat.
- If it’s a windy, apply sunscreen to your skin hourly, as the wind wears away your sunscreen. This is true all year round.
- Maximize your sun umbrella. Though an umbrella does protect from the sun rays it does not protect from the reflective rays coming off of sand and water. Though you are protected from above, the sun rays are just as dangerous reflecting from below. Keep your sunscreen on just as you would without the umbrella overhead.
Since doing all of my research I began changing our sunscreen habits at home immediately. Although I have always made sure my children have sunscreen on in the summer, I have not been diligent all year round. That will change this year. We mainly use spray sunscreen, and I will be spraying the kids very heavily, and not a mist. I threw out my face moisturizer and went out and bought sunscreen specifically for the face. With my oily acne prone skin finding something that works for me, and protects may take some time to perfect, but I’m up for the challenge.
I by no means have explained everything, so if you have more questions visit the FDA Understanding Over The Counter Sunscreen. I hope this helped you to understand what all of the changes have really done.
Tell me: how have the new FDA rules changed your sunscreen routine?