The Latest in Sunscreen Safety

By Paige Oliver

Corporate Fitness

How does your sunscreen measure up?Woman Applying Sunscreen

New sunscreen labels are on store shelves near you thanks to recent labeling requirements finalized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2012.

Here is what the new FDA requirements encompass:

  • All sunscreens protect against UVB rays, the main cause of sunburn; however, sunscreens cannot be labeled as “broad spectrum,” which protects against both UVA and UVB rays, unless it has passed a broad spectrum test. By using a broad spectrum sunscreen, you are decreasing your risk of sun-related skin cancer and premature aging of the skin.
  • Sunscreens that protect against all types of skin damage from the sun can carry both the “broad spectrum” and “SPF 15” (or greater) on the bottle.
  • If a sunscreen is not broad spectrum or at least SPF 15, it must come with a specific warning label regarding the risk of skin cancer and skin aging.
  • If sunscreens are water resistant, the bottle must state how long the SPF level is effective while swimming or sweating – 40 minutes or 80 minutes. Sunscreens can no longer be labeled as “sunblock,”  “waterproof” or “sweatproof.” They also cannot declare that they provide immediate protection from the sun or protection for longer than two hours without reapplication.

If you have had your bottle of sunscreen for more than three years, it has been exposed to high temperatures (e.g., at the pool), or you simply want sunscreen under the new labeling requirements, then it is time to pick up a new bottle! Look for sunscreens that have an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 15, which absorbs 94% of UV rays; SPF 30 absorbs 97% of UV rays. Apply one to two ounces, or a shot glass full, of sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply at least every two hours.

Within the last several years, there has been some controversy regarding some ingredients in sunscreen, specifically oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is a synthetic estrogen and some fear that it may disrupt hormone levels because the skin absorbs it. The research on oxybenzone is limited, however, the available evidence does not show any adverse health effects because it does not accumulate significantly in the body and is excreted.

More research is still needed in this area, so if you are concerned about oxybenzone, alternatives are available. Purchase a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients offer broad spectrum protection, but they can leave a white paste on the skin because they offer a physical block to UV rays, as opposed to a chemical block like most sunscreens.

Remember, UV rays still reach us on cold and cloudy days, and protecting yourself from the sun does not just come from using sunscreen. There are several other tips you can use to decrease your risk of skin cancer and other sun-related issues:

  • Limit sun exposure from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Skip the tanning bed.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, head, ears and neck. If you wear a baseball cap, put sunscreen on your ears and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around your face and block 99 to100% of UV rays.
  • Protect your lips with lip balm that contains an SPF 15 or more.
  • Hang out in the shade under an umbrella or a tree.
  • Cover up with clothing to protect exposed skin or look for clothing that is designed to help block UV rays.
  • Examine your skin from head to toe a few times every year.


  1. Burnett ME, Wang SQ. Current sunscreen controversies: a critical review. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2011;27(2):58-67.
  2. Skin Cancer Foundation. Sun protection. Available at: Accessed June 10, 2013.
  3. US Department of Health and Human Services. Consumer updates: stay safe in the summer sun. Available at: Accessed June 10, 2013.
  4. Wang SQ, Burnett ME, Lim HW. Safety of oxybenzone: putting numbers into perspective. Arch Dermatol. 2011;147(7):865-6.

Image Source: Accessed June 12, 2013.

About the Author:

Fitness has always been a passion of Paige’s, as she grew up living an active lifestyle through playing sports and cheerleading. Paige continued to pursue her passion for fitness in college with a degree in Exercise Science from Miami University. She is a certified Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine. She also recently completed a second degree in Dietetics at Arizona State University and is on her way to becoming a Registered Dietitian. She is truly passionate about helping others lead a healthy lifestyle and bridging the gap between fitness and nutrition.

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