This summer, the FDA rolls out new sunscreen guidelines and an expert from PM Pediatrics helps explain what they mean, what parents should know about the different types of sunscreens, and offers tips on how to best protect your child from the sun.
What do the new FDA sunscreen guidelines mean?
The new guidelines, which will be effective this summer, have a couple of different components that are intended to make it easier for consumers to protect against sun damage. The FDA states that products cannot be marketed as “waterproof”—there is no such thing, they all wash off. “Waterproof” indicates that it won’t ever wash off, and that’s not true. Products now have to indicate that they are “water-resistant,” and whether for 40 minutes or 80 minutes. Every product should be reapplied at least every two hours regardless.
Also, the FDA will require sunscreen bottles to state if it’s a broad-spectrum product, meaning it protects against UVA and UVB rays. If a product does not state that it is broad spectrum, then it does not protect against UVA rays. SPF only refers to protection against UVB rays. SPF measures how long it takes for UVB rays to penetrate the skin with the sunscreen applied versus without. For example, SPF 15 means you can stay in the sun 15 times longer than without the sunscreen before the UVB rays begin to penetrate your skin.
What’s the difference between UVA and UVB rays?
UVB rays and UVA rays are both radiation from the sun. While UVB rays are primarily responsible for sunburn, UVA rays actually penetrate deeper into the skin. Both contribute to skin cancer, premature skin aging, and eye damage. UVA rays have shown to contribute to skin cancer and to also cause eye damage.
How is sunscreen for adults different than sunscreen for children?
Sunscreen is not recommended for babies less than 6 months old. Sunscreen that is marketed for children are gentler, fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, and they may have different active ingredients. Some kid sunscreens contain zinc oxide instead of oxybenzone as the active ingredient. Adults can use the sunscreen marketed for children, and it’ll be just as effective.
A report by the Environmental Working Group stated that oxybenzone, common in sunscreens, is not safe to use on children. Can you elaborate?
There have been some concerns raised about the systematic absorption of oxybenzone through the skin, but there has not been any toxicity reported and the FDA hasn’t said don’t use it. If the consumer is concerned, then he or she should just find a product that is oxybenzone-free. There are many products that contain zinc oxide, but not oxybenzone.
Does sunscreen expire?
Some bottles print an expiration date while others do not. If there is no expiration date, then you should purchase a new bottle each year to be safe that the active ingredients, like zinc oxide, are actually working.
What should you look for when buying sunscreen for children?
The product should be broad spectrum, have an SPF of at least 15 and be water-resistant. There are no reports that an SPF of more than 50 is more effective. You also should not underestimate the use of other measures. Kids should be encouraged to wear hats, sunglasses, cover-ups, and to stay in the shade from time to time.
—Karin Sadow, M.D., FAAP, regional medical director of PM Pediatrics and director of PM Pediatrics in Mamaroneck, who is board certified in both pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine; Dr. Sadow earned her medical degree from Cornell University Medical College and completed her residency in pediatrics at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan