Pro Logic: Get the 411 on Sunscreen’s Label Changes Thursday 03 May, 2012

Starting in June, you may notice words like “sunblock” and “waterproof” missing from your sunscreen labels. Here, a look at how to decipher the FDA’s newly mandated labels for over-the-counter sunscreen—and what this means for you.

Ever felt slightly confused by all the different terminology surrounding sun care? You have your sunscreens, your sunblocks; they could be  water resistant, waterproof, sweatproof, but sadly not gross-beach-gawker-proof. Letters like SPF, UVA and UVB dance across the labels, with the occasional broad spectrum thrown in for good measure. For all of that lingo, your one true takeaway, most likey, was that you knew that a higher SPF number meant greater protection. The rest? Pure rigmarole.

Well, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stepped in to clear up the confusion, and effective June 2012, the FDA regulations for over-the-counter sunscreens will change the way you look at sun protection. All of those gobbledegook terms are being simplified and streamlined, thereby giving you a single standard of safety and effectiveness to better help you understand what a sun care product truly can do. “Sunblock,” “waterproof” and “sweatproof” are a thing of the past (manufacturers cannot claim any of these terms). The FDA rules that only “water resistant” can be used on labels.

The good people over at Target’s blog, A Bullseye View, want to offer you some help in demystifying sunscreen labels, and have tapped two New York-based pharmacists—Uday Dave of the West Nyack Target store and Gule Rahi of the College Point Target store—to give you the 411 on sunscreens’ new label guidelines, what SPF truly means, and just how often you really need to reapply that sunscreen—no matter how high the SPF!

 Sunscreen 101 FDA Requirements

1.  Products that do not pass the new ”Broad Spectrum” testing requirements or have a SPF value less than 15 are required to include a warning that states, “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.”

2. Broad Spectrum sunscreens can include a label that states that using the product “as directed with other sun protection measures decreases the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging caused by the sun.”

3. Only the term “water resistant” may now be used on labeling.

4. Labels must include the duration of water resistance provided by the product in two time periods: 40 minutes or 80 minutes.

5. Products that claim to provide sun protection at a value higher than SPF 50 may only be labeled as SPF 50+ and not with a numerical SPF value higher than 50. There is no compelling evidence that an SPF greater than 50 provides better protection than an SPF of 50.

 UVA UVB Rays Skin Infograph

Is sunscreen really as important as they say?

Uday Dave: Yes! Spending time outdoors exposes us to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. UVA rays can penetrate the middle layer of your skin, while UVB rays primarily reach the outer layer of your skin.  Sunburn is a sign of short-term overexposure, while premature aging and skin cancer are side effects of prolonged UV exposure. It can take years after sun exposure for the more serious effects like premature aging and skin cancer to occur. So it is especially important to start using sun protection, like sunscreen, from an early age and make it a part of your outdoor routine.


How will the new FDA regulations help people better understand sun care?

Gule Rahi: Before the FDA regulations, there was no control on product claims. These new regulations will help consumers have a better understanding of sunscreen and its benefits and will level the playing field for all products that are on the market. As a consumer, you will have confidence in knowing what you are buying—no more confusing labels!

UD: It will also provide better details on directions for use that will now clearly include timing recommendations for application and reapplication.


What is the relation of SPF values and actual time spent in the sun?

GR: SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It is a calculated number that determines how long you can stay in the sun without burning. For example, SPF 15 means you can stay out in the sun 15 times longer than if you were out in the sun with no protection at all. But it’s important to recognize that the effectiveness of a sunscreen is affected by factors such as timing and reapplication.


What are some no-brainer sun safety tips and some not-so-obvious tips?

UD: UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Plan your outdoor activities with this in mind and use sunscreen. Remember that you are affected by UV radiation from the sun on cloudy days just as much as on sunny days. Use extra caution near water, snow and sand because they reflect UV rays and increase your chance of exposure.

GR: All sunscreens have to be reapplied every two hours if you’re sweating or playing in water. Another tip is to check expiration date on sunscreen packaging because older sunscreen loses its effectiveness.


[Thanks to for the Sunscreen 101 infographic and interviews!]

(UV Rays graphic: by me)


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