Waterproof... Sweat proof... Sunblock... These terms are so widely used on sunscreen labels that we have become blind to their meaning. Many consumers grab the bottle with the most "proofs" and the highest SPF and call it good.
Well, this "no-brainer mindset" concerning sunscreens will soon be a thing of the past. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on June 14, 2011 new requirements for all over-the-counter sunscreens. These new regulations are aimed at improving the effectiveness of sunscreen products currently being sold, and make them easier for consumers to identify and use.
The new FDA sunscreen requirements address UVA and UVB protection, as well as the water and sweat proof claims. Certain terms like (you guessed it!) "waterproof", "sweat proof" and "sunblock" will no longer be permitted on sunscreen labels, as the FDA sees these claims as misleading. The new terminology you will come to recognize will be "water resistant" and "very water resistant".
What is the new water resistant requirement?
In these new rules, which go into effect next year, water resistance claims on product labels must state how long the user can expect the specified SPF protection to hold up while swimming or sweating. Manufacturers are allowed to claim how long their products are water resistant, based on standard testing.
How are products tested for water resistance?
A sunscreen claiming to be water resistant must pass third party testing. This test involves applying sunscreen to human volunteers. After at least 15 minutes of drying time, the volunteer is immersed to mid-back in gently flowing water between 25 and 32 degrees celsius. The subject stays immersed in water for 20 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of drying period. This is repeated again for a total of 40 minutes of water immersion, for the 40 minute claim. The actual effectiveness of the sunscreen after the 40 minutes of water immersion is then measured. This is the SPF that can then be printed on the bottle of the sunscreen that claims 40 minutes of water resistance. Very resistant tests would repeat until a total of 80 minutes immersion is reached.
If a product carries no water resistance claims, the label must advise users to apply a water resistant sunscreen while swimming or sweating.
So, how often should you really reapply?
At least every 2 hours, according to the FDA. If a product is labeled "water resistant" reapply after 40 minutes of vigorous activity in water, after 80 for "very water resistant". Same goes if you have been sweating a lot or towel dry. Remember: It is always better to be safe than sorry. Here are sun safety tips straight from the FDA:
- Use sunscreens with broad spectrum SPF values of 15 or higher regularly and as directed.
- Limit time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun's rays are most intense.
- Wear clothing to cover skin exposed to the sun; for example, long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and broad-brimmed hats.
- Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, more often if you're sweating or jumping in and out of the water. What about SPF?
The FDA has proposed capping SPF values at 50, unless the manufacturer can provide information supporting a higher number. This is due to no solid data showing SPF higher than 50 provides any further protection. Right now there are sunscreens on the market offering 100 SPF or higher.
SPF covers damage from UVB rays, the ones that cause sunburn. But the new FDA regulations require a sunscreen be tested for protection against the more harmful UVA rays, linked to premature aging and skin cancer. Products which protect against both UVA and UVB will be labeled "broad spectrum".
Which sunscreens provide the best sun protection?
Mineral Sunscreens containing healthy oils and waxes are naturally more water resistant. TRUE sunscreens are made with a special Zinc Oxide and provide serious sun protection and water resistance. Organic Soybean oil, Sunflower Seed oil, and Jojoba oil boost water resistance and nurture skin. These oils also create a smoother application.
It may take up to a year for the new sunscreen labels to appear on store shelves. In the meantime purchasing a nontoxic mineral sunscreen is your best defense.