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How to read the new sunscreen labels

How to read the new sunscreen labels

New sunscreen requirements from the Food and Drug Administration may make it easier for you to understand what you’re buying. Before you shop for sunscreen, understand the terms you might find on packages and check our new sunscreen Ratings.

Broad spectrum. Sunscreen makers can make this claim only if the product has passed a new “critical wavelength” test for protection against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation, both of which can cause skin cancer. That’s different from the SPF number, which reflects only how well a sunscreen wards off UVB radiation. Several sunscreens in our Ratings did not measure up to their claimed SPF.

Water resistant. Labels will specify that a product is water resistant and whether it protects for 40 minutes or 80 minutes of swimming and sweating. Labels can no longer use the claims “waterproof,” “sweatproof,” or “sunblock.”

SPF 50+. A final determination hasn’t yet been made, but super-high SPF could be a thing of the past. The FDA says it doesn’t have enough data to prove that sunscreens with an SPF above 50 provide additional protection.

Warning. Labels on sunscreens with an SPF of 15 and higher that have also passed the broad-spectrum test can state that the product reduces the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging when used as directed with other protective measures, such as clothing and limiting time in the sun. Sunscreens with an SPF of 2 to 14 and those with an SPF above 15 without a broad-spectrum claim can only say that they protect against sunburn.

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