What The New Sunscreen Laws Mean For You, A Primer

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We're firm believers in the idea that beauty product labels shouldn't require a degree in cosmetic chemistry to read. And for once, it looks like the FDA is on our side: After years of consumer confusion and misleading claims, the government agency is finally cracking down and requiring all SPF-makers to rework their packaging and make sure their formulas meet the new regulations.
"The FDA's regulations for sunscreens have not been updated in more than 30 years," says dermatologist Dr. Andrea Trowers. "The amount of misinformation about sunscreens is massive. I experience it every day in my office. Just because you use sunscreen every day doesn't mean you're using the right one that will give you the protection your skin deserves."
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So, what kind of changes can you expect to see coming to a counter near you? Plenty, including standardized testing, new labeling, and clearer messaging. The laws were supposed to go into effect last month, but the FDA extended the compliance date to December 2012 in order to give brands more time and to avoid a sunscreen shortage. "While the new ruling only technically affects labeling, many sunscreens may have to be reformulated as a result of the new testing methods. This takes time and money," explains Stuart Leitch, AVP of marketing at SkinCeuticals.
Below, we've rounded up the key things you need to know before grabbing for your next bottle of SPF. Brush up on your sun smarts now and avoid getting burned later!
Broad-Spectrum Gets Regulated
One of the biggest changes taking place revolves around usage of the word "broad-spectrum." The term is generally understood to mean that a product protects from UVA and UVB rays, but there were no standards regulating this. That meant that companies could put in a small amount of UVA-blocking ingredients and claim their product was broad-spectrum. Now, the FDA requires sunscreens that claim they are broad-spectrum to have an SPF of 15 or higher and have their ingredients pass a test to prove that they protect against a standardized wavelength.
Waterproof Becomes Water-Resistant
The FDA deemed the terms "waterproof" and "sweatproof" to be misleading, as they are technical impossibilities. So, now, brands are only able to call their products water-resistant. They also must include a disclaimer that informs consumers to re-apply SPF every 40 to 80 minutes, at least.
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No More SPF 100
While it hasn't yet been made into a law, the FDA is also promoting a cap on sunscreens at an SPF 50. The FDA says they have not been able to find data that an SPF 100 protects skin any more effectively than an SPF 50, and don't want consumers to be lured into thinking an SPF 100 will protect them for double the amount of time, as this is untrue. Conversely, sunscreens with an SPF of 14 or lower will not be able to make anti-aging or skin cancer preventative claims — the FDA has found that these formulas only protect against sunburn. Those that are broad-spectrum and above an SPF 15 will be clearly marked as able to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.
Makeup Does Not Equal Sunscreen
According to Leitch, the makeup manufacturers are going to be hit hardest by this, as the FDA is not making the distinction between products for the beach and cosmetics. That means any makeup products that claim to have SPF in them are subject to the same guidelines and testing standards as every other sunscreen. "Not only will they have to change their claims on cosmetic products to exclude sun protection," he says, "but they will either need to reformulate their SPF liquid foundations to meet the broad-spectrum claim or they will need to add a skin cancer and skin aging warning on their products explaining that the protection is not complete."
Sprays Get A Second Look
The FDA has requested additional data to evaluate the effectiveness of sprays and if they are potentially harmful when inhaled. "Sprays need to demonstrate that the SPF test method is truly representative of an in-use situation when applied by consumers," says Leitch. "So, spray sunscreens could also take a big hit if the FDA doesn’t get the answers needed from the spray manufacturers."
This all may sound like a lot of hassle, but in the long run, it's better for you. "The laws are aiming to make sunscreen labeling clear-cut and direct," says Trowers. "The new labeling will mean that manufactures will have to back up the claims they make on their sunscreen packaging with cold, hard, scientific data, which will result in better protection of the consumers' skin. These new laws are a good thing because even consumers who never come to see a dermatologist will have the knowledge and advice we provide on the sunscreen label." Sounds like a win-win to us!
Photo: Via Nordstrom
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