Sunscreen Labeling Revisions

Audrey is applying sunscreen to Lily's face
Audrey is applying sunscreen to Lily’s face to combat the intense rays of the summer Idaho sun. Children’s skin is vulnerable and they depend on you to help keep them protected.
© Darci Niles

For several years, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been studying how over-the-counter sunscreen products have been tested, labeled and marketed. On June 14, 2011 they finally issued a new rule.

The New Regulations

As we explain in How Does Sun Protection Work, both UVA and UVB radiation from the sun pass through the ozone layer and strike the earth’s surface, and us. Sun Protection Factor (SPF) ratings for sunscreens provide a measurement of their protection against UVB sun rays. UVB is the wavelength that causes sunburn and scientists once thought that only UVB rays caused skin damage. Research now proves that UVA radiation, which penetrates the skin more deeply, and is up to 95 percent of the ultraviolet radiation that we receive, also causes skin cancer and early skin aging.

In order to better inform consumers on how to best protect themselves from the harmful effects of sun exposure, the FDA is making these changes to sunscreen marketing and advertizing, effective in summer 2012:

  • In order to be labeled as “broad spectrum” (protective against both UVA and UVB), sunscreens must pass testing that shows that they provide UVA protection that is proportional to their UVB protection.
  • Only broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF value of 15 or higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging when used as directed with other sun protection measures. Sunscreens with lesser protective values can only claim to help prevent sunburn.
  • Manufacturers cannot label sunscreens as "waterproof" or "sweatproof," or identify their products as "sunblocks," because these claims overstate their effectiveness.
  • Important for us water people, water resistance claims must indicate whether the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing.

How to Protect Yourself from the Sun:

  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least an SPF 15 rating on exposed skin. Apply it 30 minutes before going out into the sun.
  • Wear sun protective clothing and broad-brim hats whenever possible.
  • Limit your time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. Yeah, that’s hard for us outdoor addicts.
  • Use sunscreens with high water resistance ratings – important for boaters.
  • Reapply sunscreens, even the water resistant ones, at least every two hours.
Adrienne applying sunscrene to herself.
Adrienne, a boater and outdoors professional, spends lots of time in the sun. She knows the benefits of keeping up the sunscreen applications.
©Darci Niles

As boaters we’re particularly vulnerable to skin damage; reflection off water and sand intensifies the sun’s rays. Don’t mess around with skin damage from the sun. Tanning is not healthy; tanning is the skin’s response to sun damage. Thousands of people die every year from skin cancer.

Boat Often, Boat Safe, Stay Healthy