Taking the Burn Out of Purchasing Sunscreen

During my teenage years, a bottle of baby oil, a towel and beach chair was all any of us needed when spending the day at the Jersey shore. As we got older (and hopefully smarter) and talks of global warming began to occupy our brains we baby boomers finally came to the conclusion that getting too much sun could actually be a bad thing.

So now, when I head to a beach where the scenery includes palm trees and turquoise-blue water rather than Guidos in muscle tanks, in addition to my funky western-style sun hat, my must haves include a beach cover up, long sleeve SPF 50 shirt to protect my back and shoulders when snorkeling, high-end polarized sunglasses and an arsenal of sunscreen. On my most recent vacation we packed no less than 10 bottles of sunscreen for two people. You got your spray bottles for complete coverage (best applied in the room before suiting up), oil-free lotion designed just for faces with a high SPF and no alcohol, lip balms because even lips can burn, and a host of water resistant lotions for reapplying after swimming, all in a range of double-digit SPFs.

One of my favorite brands has always been BullFrog. Not always easy to find and it doesn’t smell as good as say Coppertone, but worth the effort because as the label indicated it could last up to 8 hours in the water. Navy Seals even allegedly use the stuff. And since I am in the water more than I am not in the tropics waterproof products are a must. So imagine my surprise when I went to purchase sunscreen last month and discovered Bullfrog can no longer claim it is waterproof (nor can any sunscreen manufacturer for that matter). FDA, it seems, felt words like this were misleading. In fact, they felt the entire sunscreen label was too confusing and thus last December mandated changes as to what manufacturers can and can’t state on products.

FDA states the changes were necessary to help consumers like me better understand the products we were buying and know exactly what protection it offers. Apparently, people were in the habit of taking information too literally on labels and believing, for instance, that reapplying the stuff was something other people needed to do after getting out of the water or that the word “sunblock” meant you’re good to go for the whole day once applied. Because we are apparently a very gullible society, in addition to words “waterproof” and “sweatproof” now verboten, the word “sunblock” cannot be used either.

FDA has, however, approved the terms “broad spectrum” as an identifier for people looking for a sunscreen that can protect against skin cancer, premature skin aging and sunburn because those products screen out UVA and UVB rays. All I can say with this change is—are there really people who don’t want those qualities in a sunscreen and why are companies allowed to produce products that don’t meet these criteria and still call it sunscreen?

Next, if the sunscreen offers water resistance, now labels can only have the terms “40 minutes” or “80 minutes” after the words “water resistant.” A product may actually last longer, but this is all manufacturers can now claim.

So as the summer months get closer, there is likely going to be a lot of confusion at the shelf with consumers trying to make sense of all of this. Wouldn’t be in a retailer’s best interest to highlight some of these changes at POS? What’s more, given that sunscreen can only protect skin when you use it having samples or tester bottles available so consumers can feel and smell the product would also help. Now if someone could just develop a facial sunscreen that didn’t burn when it hit my eyes I would be most appreciative. If it is not possible, might I suggest co-packing some Visine with the sunscreen?


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