Your skin is your body’s largest organ, but sometimes it’s the least protected. Those painful sunburns from long summer days at the beach are uncomfortable, wrinkle-causing, and dangerous, but attaining good sunscreen habits can also feel like a chore. Even a quick glance at the sunscreen section of the grocery store can be exhausting: Waterproof or “sport” sunscreen? How much SPF do I need? What is SPF, anyway? Further, SPF has nothing to do with UVA protection. SPF gives information about protection from UVB rays. However, UVA rays are just as bad if not worse. UVA rays cause skin cancer and skin aging.
Luckily, the Food and Drug Administration recently revealed a new set of rules for sunscreen manufacturers to go into effect in 2012. The guidelines are intended mainly to protect sunscreen customers, banning the advertisement of “sunblock,” “waterproof” sunscreen, or sunscreen with SPF 50+. For the first time, the FDA will have an industry-wide test procedure to measure a product’s UVA protection relative to its UVB protection. Products that pass the FDA test may be labeled as Broad Spectrum and their SPF value indicates the amount of overall protection.The new regulations will also ban sunscreen manufacturers from advertising with the phrase “broad spectrum” unless the product protects against UVB and UVA rays. Furthermore, sunscreen bottles will clearly display how long the sunscreen works (either 40 or 80 minutes), encouraging users to re-apply often.
If you’re having trouble choosing a sunscreen that works for you, try following these guidelines:
- Don’t pay extra for SPF above 50. The FDA has reported that SPF above 50 provides negligible benefits. Reapplying regularly is more important than a sky-high SPF.
- SPF 30 will protect you from most harmful UV rays.
- Broad-spectrum sunscreen is important to protect you against UVA and UVB rays, both of which are cancer-causing.
- Regardless if your sunscreen is waterproof, water-resistant, or “sport” sunscreen, you need to reapply at least once every two hours, and more if you’re swimming or sweating profusely.