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How to Help Your Patients Master the New FDA Sunscreen Rules


On June 14, 2011 the FDA issued new rules for sunscreen labeling that were 30 years in the making.  While we’re all glad that the new rules will eventually make it much easier to choose a sunscreen that will give you the best protection, you may experience some frustration from your patients who are confused by the new labeling rules.  Often people are uncomfortable making the switch to new ways of thinking about things, especially when it comes to their health.  (Food Pyramid, anyone?)  


Here are some simple tips you can use to easily explain the new standards to your patients.  The new labels are not mandatory until Summer 2012, so encourage your patients to remain vigilant when buying sunscreen until the new labels are in effect.


The old: Companies were only required to state the SPF level.  There was no standardized testing to prove if the product was truly offering “broad spectrum” coverage.


The new: In order to use the term “broad spectrum” the product has to offer at least a minimal protection from both UVA and UVB radiation.   


The old: Companies could use the terms “waterproof” or “sweat proof” to describe the product.


The new: The words “waterproof” and “sweat proof” are banned from use on labels, since no sunscreen can actually be waterproof or sweat proof.  Instead companies can only use the term “water resistant.” The labels will state for how long the sunscreen will be resistant to water: either 40 or 80 minutes.  


The old: Sunscreen labels simply said “reapply as necessary.”


The new: Directions for use will now state to “reapply after two hours.”


Finally, most patients are becoming increasingly concerned about the levels of chemicals that they come into contact with in their diet and environment.  As dermatology providers, we’re asked every day about the toxicity of sunscreen.  Take care to remind your patients that sunscreen has been around for over 40 years and has been very widely used.  The risk of not applying sunscreen is far greater than any of the risks of toxic chemical being present in sunscreen.   


Armed with some basic information your patients will feel much better about making informed and confident decisions when buying skin care products.


[Image by Jon-Eric Melsæter]

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