sunscreen

You sun-worshipping gods and goddesses know by now that you should be slathering on the sunscreen. (Even if you choose to ignore this wise advice.) Besides helping to prevent sunburn, this beach bag staple also helps protect against skin aging and skin cancer.

As a health- and eco-conscious consumer, you know that all sunscreens are not created equal. Before you go basting your body in your favorite sunscreen, check the labels on your bottle. Wait! I don’t mean the sunscreen ingredient list. (Although, you should check that too!) Flip that baby over and look at the front of the bottle. What claims does it make?

Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued new regulations in June 2011 to ban certain false and misleading statements on sunscreen labels, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found these banned terms stamped on sunscreens on retail shelves as recently as May 2012. And, the FDA’s saying that it will wait to actually enforce these regulations until after the summer 2012 season.

That means your bottle might be bragging a little bit more about its qualities than actually exist. Inspect your sunscreen bottle for these three bogus marketing claims.

“Waterproof,” “Sweatproof” or “Sunblock” Claims

Sunscreens can no longer splash these three terms across their labels. The FDA deemed “waterproof,” “sweatproof” and “sunblock” as overstating a sunscreen’s effectiveness, which can mislead consumers. Although the FDA officially banned manufacturers from listing these terms on sunscreen labels in 2011, the FDA has actually considered these terms misleading since the 1990s, according to the EWG. Well, better late than never… right? Sigh.

Water Resistance Claims

Does your favorite sunscreen profess its unique water-repelling abilities? Hours of water activities and fun in the sun with just one application? That’s a bunch of hooey. Sunscreens can only last so long before wearing off, especially in the water. That’s why the FDA has restricted use of the term.

Now, labels that want to claim “water resistance” must also state whether the sunscreen remains effective for either 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing. Sunscreens that aren’t water resistant must direct consumers to use a water resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating.

Use Claims

Sunscreens now have to meet more stringent criteria to claim that they reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging on their bottles. To advertise these claims, sunscreens must meet an SPF value of 15 or higher and pass the FDA’s broad spectrum test. Broad spectrum means a sunscreen can protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Some sunscreens only protect against UVB rays, which cause sunburn, but skin also needs defense against UVA rays, which amplify skin aging and can cause precancerous skin damages.

Non-broad spectrum sunscreens and broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF value between 2 and 14 can only claim to help prevent sunburn. If the claims on your bottle don’t meet these criteria, it’s all just a bunch of malarkey.

Follow Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudson

Image: smcgee