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    New Sunscreen Guides: What You Need to Know

    By By: Allison Ford
    September 04, 2012, 2:46:30 AM EDT

    Just when you thought you had your sunscreen routine under control, the Food and Drug Administration had to go and change everything.

    Don’t worry—it’s good news! The new labeling guidelines from the FDA are aimed at making it easier for people to understand exactly what kind of protection they’re getting when they buy sunscreen. Once they’re in place, consumers will be able to make better choices about the products they use and, in turn, be able to better protect themselves against skin cancer and early aging.


    The new guidelines don’t affect the actual formulas for sunscreen or regulate the ingredients that go into them, but the tubes and bottles will now carry a label just like over-the-counter drugs, and three main things on the tube will look a lot different.

    The new guidelines make it clear just how much protection a product provides. Right now, a sunscreen’s stated SPF refers only to the product’s ability to filter UVB rays. (Remember—UVA rays cause aging; UVB rays cause burning.) Some products claim to provide “broad-spectrum” protection against both, but the term doesn’t really have any definitive meaning, and some sunscreens advertised as “broad-spectrum” really aren’t.

    From now on, in order to be labeled as “broad-spectrum” or to make claims of protecting against cancer or aging, a sunscreen must provide equal protection against UVA and UVB rays and be SPF 15 or higher. If a sunscreen has different levels of protection against UVA and UVB rays, it can only carry an SPF that reflects the lowest level of protection. For example, if a product provides SPF 30 protection against UVB but only SPF 15 protection against UVA, the product’s new label must say SPF 15. Another big change is that any sunscreen with SPF 14 or lower will be required to carry a warning label stating that it has not been shown to protect against cancer or skin aging.

    Although some consumers are still wary of chemical sunscreens, the FDA reiterates that it has no reason to consider any sunscreen ingredients—chemical or physical—dangerous and that the benefits of wearing sunscreen far outweigh any potential problems caused by their use.

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