Mind, Body & Spirit

New FDA sunscreen rules simplify label language

HOUSTON — Sunscreen labels can be confusing or misleading. Dermatologists at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center applaud new U.S. Food and Drug Administration label changes that help consumers understand exactly what they’re buying.

Starting this month, sunscreen makers will be required to use labels with simpler language. Here’s what the new labels must — and must not — tell consumers:

Sunblocks: No product completely shields users from the sun. Sunscreens won’t be labeled as “sunblock” anymore.

SPF level: A sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more means a product lowers the risk of skin cancer and aging. Not so for SPFs from 2 to 14; they only help prevent sunburn at best. Sunscreen labels will have to be clear about how much SPF they provide — and whether they actually curb a person’s risk of skin cancer and aging, or just help prevent sunburns.

Broad spectrum: To be labeled “broad spectrum,” sunscreens must provide equal protection against the sun’s two types of radiation: UVB and UVA. Both types can lead to cancer. UVA causes more wrinkles; UVB causes sunburns.

“Waterproof” and “sweatproof” claims will disappear: Sunscreens can only say how long they offer water-resistant protection.

Instant protection: Sunscreens can’t say they provide “instant protection” or protect skin for more than two hours unless the FDA approves these claims.

“Even after these changes go into effect, the single most important factor in picking a sunscreen is finding one you like. Sunscreen comes in creams, lotions, sprays, gels, wax sticks and wipes,” says Carol Drucker, M.D., associate professor in MD Anderson’s department of dermatology. “If you buy one with a texture you like, you’ll use it more often.”

Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. And be sure to reapply liberally every two hours.