Don’t surprised if advertisements and packaging for sunscreen products look a little different this summer, said Lisa Washburn, assistant professor-health for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
“This summer, a new set of sunscreen regulations will affect what consumers see on store shelves,” she said. “Not all sunscreens are created equal, and the new rules require manufacturers to be upfront about how much protection products really provide.”
However, consumers may still see sunscreen products with old labels on store shelves this summer.
“While new labeling rules went into effect December 2012, retailers are allowed to sell products from before the change,” Washburn said. For example, a sunscreen’s SPF, or sun protection factor, tells level of protection against ultraviolet A, or UVA rays, the primary cause of sunburn. Ultraviolet B, or UVB, rays are harmful, too, causing skin cancer and premature aging. “A glance at the SPF level doesn’t help consumers choose a sunscreen to protect against skin cancer,” she said. “That’s why new Food and Drug Administration rules require manufacturers to label products providing both UVA and UVB protection as ‘broad spectrum.’
“Products listing only an SPF level may protect against sunburn, but do not provide complete protection against sun-induced skin damage, including skin cancer,” Washburn said.
Some packages will now carry a warning label. “Sunscreen products that are not broad spectrum or that are not broad spectrum with SPF values from 2 to 14 will now carry a warning label, similar to the consumer warning label on tobacco products,” she said.
The warning for those specific products reads: “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”
Other changes include:
• Manufacturers can no longer label products as “waterproof” or “sweatproof” and cannot identify products as “sunblock.” Claims of water-resistance are allowed, but labels must clearly state that products should be reapplied after 40 or 80 minutes, based on the protection offered.
• Consumers purchasing SPF above 50 may be wasting their money. These products usually cost more, but according to the FDA, do not offer additional protection. Proposed new rules would permit labels of “SPF 50+” but not above.
• Most consumers do not apply enough sunscreen and few reapply as often as recommended. These new rules are designed to help consumers, but sunscreen doesn’t protect unless it’s used, and used properly. People should be careful to use enough sunscreen (about 1 ounce) and reapply at least every two hours – more if you’re in the water or sweating.
• Sunscreen doesn’t provide 100 percent sun protection. A broad spectrum, SPF 15 product provides filters about 95 percent of UVB rays, and SPF 30 about 97 percent. Sun protection should also include hats, long sleeves, pants, and shade.
To learn more about health, contact your county extension office, or visit www.uaex.edu.