Every summer, the prospect of choosing a sunscreen inspires the same set of questions: How high should I go SPF-wise? Which ingredients are safe? What does “broad spectrum” really mean? This year, we have a little help from the experts themselves: the FDA just released a new set of SPF regulations designed to help consumers choose wisely. The agency has been monitoring sunscreen labels since 1978, but this marks the first time they’ve stepped in to overhaul the way the industry labels its products. Although the changes technically went into effect this past Monday, don’t expect to see them kick in immediately—in order to prevent a sunscreen shortage, the FDA is allowing stores to continue selling existing bottles of SPF. Large companies will have a year to update their labels, while smaller companies will have two years.
Click through for a brief rundown of the new guidelines:
- Sunscreens can only be labeled “broad spectrum” if they offer equal protection against UVA and UVB rays. While both types of rays can cause sunburn, UVA rays are primarily responsible for premature skin aging and melanoma. This came about after it was discovered that certain sunscreens claiming to be broad spectrum didn’t provide adequate UVA protection.
- SPF 50 will be the maximum value you’ll find in stores. Keep in mind that no sunscreen blocks out 100 percent of the sun’s radiation. SPF 15 shields against 93 percent of UVB rays, SPF 30 gives you 97 percent protection, and SPF 50 offers 98 percent protection. The FDA has concluded that super-duper high SPF values don’t translate into more effective sunscreens.
- Products with an SPF value less than 15 will come with a warning label that reads: “This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”
- "Water resistant" sunscreens have to specify how often they should be reapplied: either after 40 minutes of swimming or 80 minutes sweating. The terms “waterproof,” “sweatproof,” and “sunblock” will be banned since all sunscreens eventually wear off (especially when you’re outdoors).
While you digest the new regulations, remember to always follow the cardinal rules of safe sun exposure: Reapply your SPF at least once every two hours. Avoid the sun during peak hours (around noon). And if you’re spending time outside, don’t forget to bring your sunglasses and a hat for added protection!
Our latest SPF discovery: COOLA’s tinted matte SPF 30 formula, which is formulated with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, as well as organic antioxidants.