Sunscreen labels fill us with confidence, boasting offerings of “all-day protection,” but do you really know how effective your sunscreen is? We recently recommended parents check out Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) sunscreen guide before heading to the pool this summer, but a New York Times article from this week goes further into investigating the complexities of labeling sun protection products in the US.
Most people meticulously apply sunscreen under the assumption that it will protect them against wrinkles, skin cancer and sunburn, but in fact this may not be the case. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and only measures the lotion’s ability to shield against ultraviolet B rays. Ultraviolet A rays, which cause us to tan, are not included in SPF ratings and can cause wrinkles and skin cancer. Current US sunscreen labels are not required to provide us with information on the product’s effectiveness against UVA rays and most choose not to.
The US Food and Drug Administration proposed a four star rating system for UVA ray protection three years ago that has yet to be passed into law. As a result, American sunscreens lag in comparison to European lotions, which utilize more up-to-date technology in UVA ray protection. This lack of effective sun protection options has caused some Americans to purchase European sunscreens online. In its fourth annual report on sunscreens, the EWG found that of the 500 products it assessed, only 8 percent were in fact “safe and effective.” This dismal record demonstrates how easily misconstrued labeling can be and the importance of reform. For now, investigate before you slather yourself and your kids in “sunblock” this summer.