It used to be that your options were whether or not buy SPF 15 or 30, but now a trip to the sun care aisle can be really confusing. The SPF numbers go from five to 75, you can get waterproof or sweatproof, there are sprays and lotions, and some brands promise that you won’t feel greasy after application. But which claims really stand up to the test, and are there ingredients you should look out for — or avoid — to get the best, safest protection?
The Food and Drug Administration in the United States recently announced new rules for sunscreen and sunblock makers, which will kick in by next summer. Health Canada announced last week that they will follow suit with similar changes. Here are some of the new FDA rules:
- Products with an SPF under 15 will have to have the following statement on the packaging: “This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”
- Unless companies can prove that the SPF value is higher, they will be capped at 50.
- The existing four-star system for UVA protection will be phased out.
- Sun care products can only be called “broad spectrum” if they protect against UVA and UVB rays.
- Sun care products can no longer be called waterproof, only water-resistant. The packaging must indicate the length of time the product will work in the water.
Sunscreen vs sunblock
The words “sunscreen” and “sunblock” are often used interchangeably, but they do not mean the same thing. Sunscreen soaks into your skin, absorbing the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UV) before they can cause skin damage. Ingredients like Parsol 1789 are sunscreens. Sunblock sits on top of your skin, physically blocking UV rays before they can reach your skin’s surface. Ingredients like zinc dioxide are sunblocks. Most lotion brands are a combination of sunscreen and sunblock.
What to look for
Here are some tips for when you go shopping for a new sun-care product.
1. Look for mineral sunblock ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc dioxide.
2. Avoid chemicals like oxybenzone and parabens.
3. Look for a product that protects against UVA and UVB rays — they can both cause skin damage.
4. Even if the sunscreen you buy is water resistant or sweat resistant, you will still need to reapply; the products wear off when exposed to moisture.
5. You need to apply a shot glass’ worth of sunscreen or sunblock to be properly protected.
6. Don’t forget about other ways to protect yourself: wear covering clothing, spend time in the shade, and avoid the sun during its peak afternoon hours.
The Environmental Working Group recently released its 2011 Sunscreen Guide, after reviewing more than 1,700 sun care products. Here are a few of our product recommendations:
- Beaulance Natural Sun Lotion: Contains zinc oxide, as well as antioxidant green tea and shea butter.
- Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Mineral Block Face Stick: Water resistant and made with natural ingredients, including oatmeal, which soothes sensitive skin.
- The Green Beaver Company Certified Organic Kids Non-Whitening Sunscreen Lotion: Certified organic and approved by Health Canada, with Canadian-grown raspberry extract.