How to Decipher the New Sunscreen Labels

Get the most sun protection, thanks to new FDA labeling laws

Sunscreen labels and SPF numbers have always been a little hard to understand, when all you really want is to find out how well a product will protect your skin. Apparently they've been misleading, too. But new FDA labeling laws now have specific requirements to distinguish which sunscreens work better than others, making it easier to choose the right one. 

The new regulations will apply to products that carry an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number such as sunscreen, makeup, moisturizer and lip balm. 

Here are three new changes to keep in mind when buying sunscreen:

  • Look Out for “Broad Spectrum” Labeling:  All sunscreen products protect against UVB (ultraviolet B) rays, the main cause of sunburn. But not all protect against UVA (ultraviolet A) rays, which cause skin cancer and premature aging. “Broad spectrum” means the product protects against both. Now, only products that pass a specific UV test can be labeled “broad spectrum.”
  • New Warning Signs:  Sunscreens with an SPF lower than 15 come with a warning now. Watch out for: “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer or early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.” Sunscreens that are not broad spectrum-approved will come with this warning as well.
  • No More False Claims:  Manufacturers are no longer allowed to claim that their sunscreens are waterproof or “sweatproof” because water resistant does not mean “waterproof.” And if a product’s front label claims it is water resistant, it must specify whether it lasts for 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating. Also, sunscreens may not claim “instant protection” or protection for more than two hours without reapplying, unless they submit data and are approved by the FDA. And the term “sunblock” may no longer be used.

These new uniform standards will be the basis of how effective the sun protecting product is rather than the single SPF standard that used to be the only indicator. But on top of learning how to read and understand sunscreen labels, it is important to know which products to avoid and other precautions you can take to protect your skin.