Before You Head Outside, Protect Your Skin From The Sun
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Before You Head Outside, Protect Your Skin From The Sun

Using sunscreen is critical to protecting your skin in the sun, and choosing the right product to use is key

April 30, 2018

Although everyone is aware of skin cancer and the role of sunscreen in helping to prevent it, the details that will save lives are often surprising, even to savvy consumers.

Did you know that some sunscreens protect against only the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and not its ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, which also contribute to skin cancer, and that no sunscreen completely blocks all UV radiation? Or that no sunscreen is truly waterproof?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken steps on multiple fronts to protect consumers from the skin damage that can be caused by too much exposure to the sun.

Sunscreen Labels

Using sunscreen is critical to protecting your skin in the sun, and choosing the right product to use is key. Carefully reading the label is absolutely essential!

Utilizing the latest available science, in 2011 the FDA established new testing and labeling requirements for sunscreen, which became final in December 2012.

Broad Spectrum

One of the most important of the requirements is testing and labeling that identifies sunscreens that are "broad spectrum," meaning they offer protection against both UVB and UVA rays. All sunscreen products offer protection against UVB rays, which are the primary cause of sunburn, but both UVB and UVA rays contribute to sun-induced skin cancer and premature skin aging.

Under FDA regulations, sunscreen products that pass a broad spectrum test can be labeled "broad spectrum" on the front of the product.

Sunscreens that are not broad spectrum or that lack a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 must carry the following warning: "Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging."

Water Resistant?

FDA regulations also require that if a product's front label makes claims of being water resistant, it must designate whether it's protective for 40 or for 80 minutes while swimming or sweating. Additionally, manufacturers may no longer make claims that their sunscreens are "waterproof" or "sweatproof."

Further, no sunscreen product can be identified as a "sunblock" or claim instant protection from the sun or protection for more than two hours without reapplying.

Important Sun Safety Tips

  • Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin areas at least 15 minutes before sun exposure. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. If you don't have much hair, make sure you apply sunscreen to the top of your head, or wear a hat.
  • Although people with pale skin and light hair are most vulnerable, people of every shade are susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer.
  • Keep infants under six months of age out of the sun.
  • No sunscreen stops all UV rays. Limit sun exposure, particularly between 10 a.m. and 2 pm., when the sun's rays are strongest.
  • Maintain caution on overcast days because up to 80 percent of the sun's UV rays can still get through the clouds.
  • A variety of factors cause different amounts of UV radiation to reach different parts of the Earth at any given time. You can find the strength of solar UV radiation on a given day in a particular zip code with the UV Index report issued daily by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Weather Service.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours; more often if you are swimming or sweating.
  • Wear clothes that protect your body. If you plan on being outside on a sunny day, cover as much of your body as possible.
  • Stay in the shade as much as possible throughout the day.

Find more sun safety tips on the FDA's website.