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Sunscreen Safety: What to Know

Sunscreen ingredients, labels, and more.

What's on the Label? continued...

There's no need to go over SPF 50. We may soon not see labels that promise protection over 50 because the FDA believes there isn't proof that a product can provide such high levels of sun protection.

But to get SPF protection, you must reapply often. By the end of 2012, all labels will tell users to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. If a brand claims its product lasts longer than two hours, the company will have to prove it to the FDA.

Waterproof, Sweatproof, Sunblock: You can kiss those terms good-bye. The FDA has ordered sunscreen labels to quit using those words because they go too far. At best, you'll see "water-resistant" or "sweat-resistant" and just plain old "sunscreen" rather than "sunblock." Labels will also have to tell you if the product is water- or sweat-resistant for 40 minutes or 80 minutes. After that length of time, you'll have to reapply.

Broad-Spectrum Protection: By the end of 2012, that phrase will be reserved for products offering UVA and UVB protection. Not all sunscreens have broad-spectrum protection.

UVA rays cause tanning, wrinkles, and other signs of premature aging and contribute to skin cancer. We are exposed to them all day, every day, because they get through clouds and windows. This is why we should use sunscreen every day whether or not we plan to go outdoors.

UVB rays cause sunburns and contribute to skin cancer. They are most intense in the spring and summer months from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at high altitudes, and on reflective surfaces such as snow or ice.

Spray Sunscreens

The FDA is studying the safety of spray sunscreens. For now, Lim notes, it's important to spray several coats and rub it in to ensure complete coverage. "With fine droplets, there can be a lot of missed areas, so it has to be sprayed several times," he says.

Also, don't spray it on your face. We don't yet know the effects of inhaling sunscreen sprays, Lim says. Labels on these products warn not to inhale the spray or spray it on your face. Instead, spray it in your hands and rub it on your face.

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