In 2012, the FDA finally sanctioned stricter regulations for the labeling and sales of sunscreens. This new standard on sunscreens helps consumers understand how to better protect themselves.

For example, no sunscreen can now be called “waterproof.” Terming a sunscreen as “waterproof” or “sweat-proof” can mislead shoppers to believe that they can wear it in the water indefinitely and still be protected. Now, under the new FDA labeling regulations, sunscreen is labeled as “water resistant,” and must also state how long it is water resistant, for either 40 or 80 minutes.

Companies are also not permitted to label sunscreens as “sunblocks,” as nothing can block the harmful rays completely; it can only protect against them.

Have you noticed that sunscreens are no longer labeled with outrageous numbers such as SPF 80? Again, the FDA has cracked down on the misconception on labeling, and companies can no longer list any SPF higher than 50+.

Only sunscreens over SPF 15 can claim to be “Broad-Spectrum” and protect against both UVA and UVB rays. (UVA rays are “aging” rays; UVB rays are “burning” rays.)

Any sunscreen with an SPF 2-14 can protect only against the UVB rays and must be labeled with the warning that “This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”

Thus, to protect yourself against the agony of burning, the agony of premature aging, and the agony of skin cancer, you must protect yourself with broad-spectrum sunscreens.

To protect yourself properly, the key is to reapply every two hours using a zinc-based sunscreen.

There are two types of active ingredients used in sunscreens: physical and chemical. The only two physical sunscreen ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Make sure to look for these active ingredients when purchasing your sunscreen.

Sometimes you will also hear these being referred to as “mineral sunscreens.” They provide the best protection by physically deterring the sun’s harmful rays from the skin. Some of the chemical sunscreens can cause sensitivities, so skin care experts suggest using physical based sunscreens.

All active ingredients will be labeled clearly on the bottle or tube of sunscreen itself, so it is easy to determine all of the ingredients that are used to protect you.

Living in the Lowcountry, it is impossible to avoid the abundant pleasures of outdoor activities. Since we cannot avoid the sun exposure without sacrificing the fun, just remember these simple rules:

  • Choose a water-resistant sunscreen if playing in water or sweating.
  • Choose a broad-spectrum SPF 15 or higher.
  • Try to find a sunscreen with a zinc oxide base.
  • Reapply every two hours.
  • Seek shade when possible.

If you have trouble finding the perfect sunscreen for you and your family, ask your dermatologist or other trusted skin care expert. Ask for samples if available, because the best sunscreen to use is the one that you will actually apply.

Jasmine L. Alderson is the director of LUX, A Medical Spa in Bluffton.