Picking a sunscreen from the huge wall of choices at the drugstore can be daunting. Thankfully, new sunscreen labeling requirements from the Food and Drug Administration are beginning to take effect, taking some of the guesswork out of the job.
“Not all sunscreens are created equal,” says the FDA’s Lydia Velazquez on the agency’s website. “It’s important for consumers to read the entire label, front and back, to choose the appropriate sunscreen for their needs.”
One confusing issue is the term “broad spectrum,” which means that a sunscreen protects against both main types of ultraviolet radiation – commonly called UVA and UVB.
Until recently, there wasn’t an accurate test for broad spectrum protection, or a standard for companies to hit before putting that term on their labels.
But under new regulations, products that meet that standard will include “broad spectrum” and SPF rating on the front of the package, with detailed information on the back.
“Waterproof” and “sweatproof” claims can no longer be used, the FDA says, because all sunscreens will wash off. The labels can only say how long the product is water resistant. Also, no more use of the word “sunblock,” no more claims of “all-day protection” and no more SPF ratings of 100; the highest will now be 50+. An SPF value above 50 doesn’t seem to provide additional protection, the FDA says.
The compliance date has been extended to December. While many companies are well on their way to compliance, some sunscreens on shelves this summer will still have the old labels, the FDA says.
The new rules are good news for consumers, says Dr. Carol Drucker, associate professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. She suggests looking for a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Cover every part of the body exposed to the sun, Drucker says. Ears, feet, everywhere. Reapply every two hours that you’re in the sun. Apply the first dose 30 minutes before you head outdoors.
Dr. Vincent Iannelli, pediatrics guide for About.com, says that it’s not necessary to buy different sunscreens: one for you, one for your child. Nor do more expensive lotions and potions seem to make a difference.
Iannelli reminds parents of kids with sensitive skin to look for the words “hypoallergenic” and “fragrance free.” To get good protection from UVA rays, look for sunscreens that list avobenzone, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as an ingredient, he says.
Also, look for a form that is easy to use on your child, whether that means a stick, gel, lotion or spray. Don’t spray your child’s face with sunscreen; spray it on your hands and use them to apply it.
Kids also need to wear wide-brimmed hats and sun-protective clothing.
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, is a mother and preschool teacher. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-236-9510.