Do You Know How to Read Sunscreen Labels?

By Pacific Derm on August 19 2015

The ‘improved’ sunscreen labeling system introduced in 2011 by the FDA may not be as effective as intended. A study has shown that consumers do not fully understand the most important pieces of information, such as SPF, on the packaging.

Some of the new rules for sunscreen labels included:

  1. The term “broad spectrum” may only appear on sunscreens proven to protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
  2. “Waterproof”, “sweatproof” and “sunblock” can no longer be used on the label, as these words tend to overstate the product’s effectiveness.
  3. Only broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging if used as directed.
  4. Sunscreen cannot claim to provide protection for more than two hours without reapplication, or claim to provide “instant” protection without first submitting evidence to the FDA.

FDA-sunscreen label

In a recent article in NEJM Journal Watch (July 16, 2015), reports that the 2014 study, published in June 2015, identifies that this long-overdue labeling change has fallen short.

The key issues discovered in the study:

  1. Many people don’t understand the difference between UVA and UVB, and the importance of using a “broad spectrum” (which includes UVA protection) sunscreen.
  2. Only a small percentage (38%) knew that high SPF or broad spectrum sunscreens protect against skin cancer.
  3. Choice of sunscreen tends to be driven by high SPF, sensitive-skin formulation and water/sweat resistance features.

The article suggests that a publicity campaign is needed to properly educate consumers on how read sunscreen labels properly and select the “most suitable sunscreen.”