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What Are the New Sunscreen Rules?

New Food and Drug Administration rules that will take effect in June 2012 will change sunscreen labels.

Currently, manufacturers are required to use a sun protection factor, or SPF, to say how well they protect against ultraviolet B radiation (UVB), which causes sunburn, but not ultraviolet A rays (UVA), which can lead to premature skin aging. Both rays damage the immune system and can cause skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Here's what the new rules change:

  • Broad spectrum protection. Sunscreens that pass an FDA test for protection against both UVA and UVB rays will be labeled broad spectrum.
  • Health claims. Only products that are broad spectrum and have a SPF of at least 15 may say they reduce the risk of sunburn, skin cancer and early aging. Other products must carry a warning label that says they have not been shown to reduce skin cancer and aging.
  • Water-resistance. Labels such as "waterproof" or "sweatproof" will be banned because they are false. Instead, products may indicate the number of minutes for which they are water resistant, based on test results.
  • Phony ratings. SPF ratings higher than 50 could be banned under an additional proposal. "Right now, we don't have any data to show that anything above 50 adds any value for anybody," says Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s drug center.

The FDA also asked for more information about sunscreen sprays to ensure that they are effective and to explore what happens when their products are inhaled. "You could imagine a child getting a sunscreen sprayed on and turning their face into the blast and breathing it in. It’s a question of safety,” says Dr. Woodcock.

In addition to sunscreen, health experts urge families to take four simple measure to guard against sun radiation: wear protective clothing, avoid the noontime sun, don't use tanning beds and when possible, stay in the shade.

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