How Safe Is Your Sunscreen?

After years of studies, the FDA has cracked down on false promises and passed new regulations for sunscreen

How Safe Is Your Sunscreen?

After years of studies, the FDA has cracked down on false promises and passed new regulations for sunscreen products.

-PJ Gach

 applying sunscreen

After years of companies claiming their products are the best on the planet, the FDA finally stepped in with new regulations and rulings on the products. For a sunscreen to call itself a “broad spectrum” sunscreen, it must, according to the FDA, protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Both cause cancer, but UVA rays can cause wrinkling (yikes), while UVB rays cause burns (double yikes!).

If a sunscreen has an SPF of 15 or less and isn’t a broad spectrum sunscreen, starting next year it will have to carry a warning label: “This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”

Other new rules concerning sunscreens include: companies will have to phase out their four-star system to rate UVA protection. The FDA is prohibiting marketing claims of “waterproof” and “sweatproof” formulas. The agency claims that they’re “exaggerations of performance.” Sunscreens will go no higher than an SPF 50, unless companies who create the higher SPF sunscreens can prove via testing and results that they actually work. At present, sunscreens with an SPF of 70 or even 100 are giving the same amount of protection as a sunscreen with an SPF 50.

Sunscreen companies will have to explain exactly how many minutes you can stay in the sun before you need to reapply the product.

The new rule and regulations will create a standard for UVA and UVB protection that the companies must follow.

Dr. Ariel Ostad, a New York City board certified dermatologist, is happy about the new regulations and feels that, in the end, consumers will benefit from the new regulations. “All they’re going to need to do,” says Dr. Ostad, “is pick an SPF number and then make sure that it’s broad spectrum.”

Possibly due to people not using sunscreen, using sunscreen incorrectly or thinking a tanning bed won’t hurt them, Dr. Michael Gold of Gold Skin Care Center in Nashville, says, “I have melanoma patients now in their young 20s. When I first started in practice 20 some odd years ago, if you were 60 years old and I saw melanoma I would be surprised.” Dr. Gold reminds us that the best defense for preventing skin cancer is to stay out of the sun and to definitely avoid tanning beds. Wearing sunscreen with a broad spectrum SPF of 30+ is a must.

Dr. Kenneth Mark, clinical assistant professor of Dermatologic Surgery at New York University and a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and fellowship-trained Mohs Skin Cancer Surgeon concurs: “When in the sun directly (at the beach, outside) apply sunscreen at least every two hours. If you are sweating or swimming, reapply every 30 minutes after significant water exposure. If you are in and out of the sun, apply your sunscreen two or three times throughout the day.”

Dr. Ostad suggests, “Sunscreens should be applied to exposed areas 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors.”

All three doctors agree that when you’re shopping for a sunscreen, look for one that has zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They’re physical blockers that  prevent full UVA and UVB rays. Look for sunscreens that have Parsoll789 (AKA Avobenzone), Ecamsule, Mexoryl, Antihelios and Helioplex. Those ingredients block UVA rays.

Remember that sunscreens generally have a shelf life of one year. Before you use last year’s bottle, check the expiration date and the ingredients. If your sunscreen is missing the above UVA and UVB blockers, it might be a good idea to buy a better sunscreen.

Tell us: do you remember to use sunscreen?

PJ Gach is Senior Editor: Style + Beauty at BettyConfidential.

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