FDA Sunscreen Guidelines -- The Key Changes

Sandra A. Fryhofer, MD


July 22, 2011

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Hello. I'm Dr. Sandra Fryhofer. Welcome to Medicine Matters. The topic: the new US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines for rating and labeling sunscreens.[1,2] Here's why it matters.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer affecting adults in the United States, but there are ways to diminish the sun's danger. The new gold standard for sunscreens is broad spectrum protection from products that block both ultraviolet (UV)B, the burning rays, and UVA, the rays that cause aging and wrinkles.

The sun protection factor (SPF) number rating system for UV protection will still be used, but the highest rating allowed will now be 50+. Sunscreens with an SPF of 70 or more are history. Only products with an SPF of 15 or higher will be able to claim protection from sunburn, skin cancer, and aging. Note, however, that, dermatologists prefer an SPF of at least 30.

Sunscreen products can now only claim to be water-resistant. They can no longer be labeled as waterproof or sweat-proof. Even with water-resistant sunscreens, check to be sure that the application works for 40 or 80 minutes. Because these labeling rules are new, products with the older labels are still available.

Consumer Reports provides a list of products already tested for UVA protection. You can also check the list of active ingredients on the label. Of note, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide offer protection against both UVA and UVB.

Be sure to apply sunscreen liberally and reapply it often, especially after swimming. And remember, a wet t-shirt has an SPF of 0, and there's no such thing as a safe tan. From Medicine Matters, I'm Dr. Sandra Fryhofer.


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