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Protect your skin: Sunscreen isn’t waterproof or sweatproof

July 29th, 2011 by - no comments

I remembered that sunscreen isn’t truly waterproof or sweat proof when I read this from HHS HealthBeat:

“Even if sunscreens say they’re waterproof, they’re not. Sunscreens can wash off with sweat, or just being in the water. When this happens, their sun protection washes off, too, leaving users at greater risk for burns, premature skin aging and possibly even skin cancer. So the Food and Drug Administration has set new rules to help people know what they’re getting and when to use it.”

I specifically buy sunscreens that say waterproof or sweatproof because if we’re outdoors, we’re likely either in the water or sweating! Sometimes those sunscreens even cost more. I can’t seem to wean myself away from those; my mind feels sure they are more effective. They must have some basis for saying it, right?

That’s a little true, but not quite accurate, as FDA dermatologist Jill Lindstrom explains, “Sunscreens may only use the term `water resistant,’ and must clearly indicate how long water resistance actually lasts.’”

So the sunscreen currently marked “waterproof” and “sweat proof” are actually only able to withstand water and sweat a little better than regular sunscreen. How much is a little? Well the new FDA guidelines only approved two lengths of time for water resistance claims: 40 minutes and 80 minutes.

That means you really ought to reapply sunscreen every half hour or so, especially if you are in full sun during the main hours of maximum sun exposure: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

How can you tell whether your sunscreen can resist water and sweat for 40 or 80 minutes? You might not know until the new label requirements take effect next summer, June 2012.

As you probably know, the FDA recently issued new guidelines for sunscreen. Those new requirements are to improve clarity and honesty in labeling:

  • You should be able to read any sunscreen label and clearly know the depth of its protectiveness (5 versus 15 versus 50) and the breadth of its protection (e.g., broad spectrum).
  • Sun screens cannot claim to work longer than two hours without special FDA approval.
  • The new requirements also stipulated truth and straightforward information about how it works in the water or with sweat: “Water resistance claims on the product’s front label must tell how much time a user can expect to get the declared SPF level of protection while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing.”
  • Most importantly, the new FDA guidelines state that manufacturers cannot make claims that sunscreens are “waterproof” or “sweatproof, or identify their products as “sunblocks.”

You can check manufacturers sites to see if they offer any more detail about claims of time they work in water or with sweat.

Err on the side of caution to best prevent skin damage, premature aging, and skin cancer.


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