It’s no secret that the sun’s powerful rays can be harmful to our appearance and, more importantly, to our health. That’s why choosing the right sun protection is such a crucial task. However, with varying label claims and confusing jargon, this duty can seem daunting. Thankfully — for the sake of our skin — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is addressing this issue in an effort to offer consumers greater insight on the level of protection these products provide. Although manufacturers now have until mid-December to revamp their labels according to the FDA’s final regulations, here is what you need to know now so you don’t get burned by the delay.
BE CONSCIOUS OF CLAIMS
Say goodbye to “waterproof,” “sweatproof” and “sunblock” claims. Under the new FDA regulations, sunscreens can no longer claim to provide sun protection for more than two hours without reapplication. “If a sunscreen is water resistant, it can be placed on the label but it has to be combined with the amount of time it is water resistant for — either 40 or 80 minutes,” says Cybele Fishman, MD, doctor of integrative dermatology, New York City. When it comes to SPF ratings, only SPF 15 or higher will be allowed to claim protection against skin cancer and premature skin aging.
TRY: Sunology Sunscreen Lotion for Body SPF 50, $14.99; sunology.com
LEARN THE LABEL
Look for three key terms, says Fishman: broad spectrum, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Many consumers don’t realize that SPF only refers to protection from UVB rays — the rays that cause sunburn and skin cancer. Now, UVA rays — those associated with premature aging and melanoma — are taken into account as well. Products labeled “broad spectrum” will have to provide equal protection against both. “I recommend a broad spectrum sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher, containing either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients,” says Fishman. “These are inert minerals, not chemicals, so they do not cause allergic reactions and are more effective because instead of absorbing the sun’s rays, like chemical sunscreens, they block and scatter.”
TRY: Marie-Veronique Organics Moisturizing Face Screen SPF 30 with antioxidants, $40 mvorganics.com
SLATHER YOUR SKIN
It’s important not to skimp on sun protection portions for you and your family. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), most people only apply 25 to 50 percent of the recommended amount which, for adults, is a full ounce (a shot glass full to cover an average-sized body), and half that for a child. And of course, re-apply every two hours, or when you get out of the water.
TRY: Erbaviva Childrens Sunscreen SPF 30 with organic lavender and chamomile, $22; erbaviva.com
CHECK YOUR LENSES
Not only do UV rays lead to wrinkles around the eyes, they can also damage the corneas, leading to macular degeneration and cataracts. “Sunglasses are key to protect the thin skin around the eyes, but make sure yours offer UVA/UVB protection,” says Fishman. “If you’re buying a $5 pair off the street, they likely will not.” Look for sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays, and for maximum coverage, purchase glasses that span from your brow to upper cheek and wrap to your temples.
TRY: iWood EcoDesign Sunglasses, with reclaimed wood frames and 100 percent UVA/UVB protective lenses, $370; iwoodecodesign.com
BE MINDFUL OF REFLECTIONS
Just because you’re in the shade, indoors, or in cold weather doesn’t mean you’re protected. According to the AAD, 80 percent of damaging UV rays penetrate through clouds and reflect off snow. UV rays also reflect off sand, water and concrete, intensifying exposure. And although UVB does not penetrate through glass, UVA does–making it crucial to wear sunscreen every single day.
TRY: Coola Face Mineral Sunscreen Rose Essence Tinted Moisturizer SPF 20 Face, $36, coolasuncare.com
DO SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the “little areas” — i.e., the ears, feet, lips, eyelids and scalp. According to skincancer.org, squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer caused by UV exposure, is frequently found in overlooked areas such as the rim of the ear, lower lip, scalp and neck. “Lips can get burned, age prematurely, and develop skin cancers,” says Fishman. “Use a lip balm with at least SPF 15.” Fishman also recommends a sunscreen stick with zinc oxide for the eyelids, and sunscreen spraysto cover the scalp.
TRY: Badger SPF 30+ Unscented Sunscreen Face Stick, water resistant for 80 minutes, with beeswax and coco butter, $8.49; badgerbalm.com
GET RID AND RE-BUY
You may save money by using last year’s sunscreen, but you’re not saving your skin. According to the Mayo Clinic, sunscreens are designed to remain stable and at original strength for up to three years. However, it is important to check the expiration date, as natural sunscreens expire sooner. Storing sunscreen in a cool, dark place will also lengthen its life. Warmer environments (an overheated car, for example) break down the composition, making it less effective.
SAY “NO” TO BASE TANNING
Getting a base tan in the hope of preventing sunburn is a complete myth when it comes to sun safety. There is no such thing as a safe tan, and any change in skin color signals damage from UV radiation. Research shows that the risk of developing cancer jumps by 75 percent in people who use tanning beds before age 30. “Tanning beds, which are mostly UVA, are thought to account for the rise in melanoma in women 29 to 44,” says Fishman. “And now, melanoma is the No. 1 cancer in people aged 19 to 29.”