Have you made your first drugstore run of the season to stock up on sunscreen? If not, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re in for a surprise: All products claiming to shield your skin from the sunÃ¢â‚¬”lotions, sprays, makeup, even lip balmsÃ¢â‚¬”must now follow new labeling rules mandated by the FDA. Banned are fuzzy buzzwords such as Ã¢â‚¬Å“sunblockÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“sweatproofÃ¢â‚¬Â in favor of more accurate, research-backed terms that give consumers a clear sense of how well the product protects against UV-induced skin damage and skin cancer.
On the heels of the new rules comes an annual report from the Environmental Working Group that lists the top sunscreens of 2013. Released this week by the advocacy organization, the report recommends more than 100 products out of thousands currently available on store shelves. To get the EWGÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s seal of approval, sunscreens had to offer solid sun protection not exceeding SPF values above Ã¢â‚¬Å“50+Ã¢â‚¬Â(which the FDA warns can give a false sense of security and offer poor UVA protection relative to the high SPF). They also had to contain the fewest possible ingredients with toxicity concerns, such as retinyl palmitate (an ingredient that become more toxic or harmful when exposed to sunlight) and oxybenzone (a hormone disruptor).
The EWG also chose not to endorse sprays or powders since some sunscreen ingredients, such as titanium dioxide, have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Carcinogens as possibly carcinogenic if inhaled (the risk of inhaling sunscreen goes up, of course, if you're using a sunscreen spray or powder). EWG representatives say the organization also chose to exclude powders and sprays because the FDA has expressed concerns about how well these filter UV rays.
For the record, any sunscreen product that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t meet the EWGÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s criteria (including sprays and powders) has not been deemed unsafe by the FDA, says Andrea Fischer, an FDA spokesperson. She confirmed that all sunscreens marketed in the U.S. must meet FDA guidelines.
A few examples of sunscreens recommended by the EWG:
- Absolutely Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30
- Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Mineral Sunscreen, Fragrance Free, SPF 30
- Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Face Stick, SPF 50
- BurtÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Bees Baby Bee Sunscreen Stick, SPF 30
- Coppertone Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
- Kiss My Face Natural Mineral Sunscreen with Hydresia, SPF 40
Check out the full list from the EWG, then read up on which terms you should look for on the next bottle you buy:
Manufacturers used to be able to put these two wordsÃ¢â‚¬”which mean a product protects against both UVA and UVB raysÃ¢â‚¬”on any bottle they wanted, without having to prove it. Now, it can only show up on sunscreens that pass a test.
No sunscreen is truly waterproof or sweatproofÃ¢â‚¬”so manufacturers can no longer use these words on the bottle. In its place is Ã¢â‚¬Å“water resistant,Ã¢â‚¬Â meaning that the product starts to wash away after either 40 minutes or 80 minutes. The time limit will be noted on the label, so consumers know when they need to apply more (although you should reapply every two hours even if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not in the water, says Albert M. Lefkovits, associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine).
Sun protection factor
Surprise: An SPF of 60 barely blocks any more UV rays than an SPF of 30 (they protect against 95 and 98 percent, respectively). Since the difference is so small, the FDA has now banned SPFs above 50+ to avoid misleading the public. Another change: Now sunscreens with SPF 15 and under come with a warning since they protect you from sunburn, but not premature skin aging or skin cancer.
YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re used to seeing this on the back of any container of over-the-counter meds. Now, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on your sunscreen too. It contains a list of the productÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s active ingredients, warnings about potential dangers or interactions, and basic directions.
Sun protection measures
To remind consumers that sunscreen isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t foolproof, all broad-spectrum products with an SPF of at least 15 will now advise that wearing long sleeves, a hat, sunglasses, and staying out of the midday sun, when UV rays are strongest, will also cut back on your skin damage odds.