What you need to know about new sunscreen labels

CLEVELAND - The official start to summer is still a month away, but dermatologist say, you shouldn't wait until then to start using sunscreen. They're reminding everyone that sunscreen labels are going to look a little different this season, because of new restrictions from the FDA.

When it comes to protecting your skin from the sun, it's as simple as three letters, right? SPF, UVA and UVB. Consumers we caught up with say it's not simple at all.

"It's confusing. It's hard because there's so many to choose. SPF 30, 35, 40," said Angie Rodriguez.

"I usually just go for the number, the highest number that I see on the shelf," said Lauren Justus.

It turns out, there's more to protecting your skin than just a few letters and numbers on the sunscreen bottle. The FDA is enforcing new guidelines and stricter labeling on lotions in mid-December, but many products with the new labels have already hit store shelves.
"I think it's going to make things a lot easier for us as consumers purchasing sunscreen," said Jennifer Lucas, M.D., a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

You want to look for the new term "broad spectrum" on the bottle. That's going to offer you the best coverage from both UVA light, which causes premature aging, and UVB light, which causes sunburn.

Lucas offers this advice next time you buy a bottle. "What I'd recommend is that you choose something that's at least a 15 SPF, preferably I would opt more for a 30 SPF, but you want something that's at least that strength and has that broad spectrum designation," said Lucas.

Another change: Labels are no longer allowed to say "sunblock," "all-day protection," "waterproof" or "sweatproof." What they can say is "water resistant."

"What that means is if you go into the water for a period of time, your sunscreen will stay on you. There's two time levels that they've given sunscreen: A 40- and an 80-minute mark. So you know when you're in the water for 40 or 80 minutes, your sunscreen should stay on your skin," said Lucas.

Another rule to keep in mind: The best way to protect your skin is to apply the lotion correctly and use the right amount. You need a shot glass or golf ball sized amount to cover your body, if you're wearing a bathing suit.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure. What you do now to protect your skin is truly going to protect it and prevent you from getting skin cancer and looking older before your time down the road," said Lucas.

You don't have to throw your old sunscreen away. The FDA says sunscreen has a three year shelf life. So check the expiration date on the back. Dermatologist say you can still use it if it has both UVA and UVB protection on the label and it's at least 15 or 30 SPF.

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