The FDA announced new regulations for sunscreen labels after more than 3 decades. Consumers should now be able to make better decisions about how they can protect their skin from…

Woman applying sunblock
Woman Applying Sunscreen --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

FDA Declares New Rules for Sunscreen

The FDA announced new regulations for sunscreen labels after more than 3 decades. Consumers should now be able to make better decisions about how they can protect their skin from sun damage without facing deceptive sunblock packaging.

Sun protection

New guidelines dictate that sunscreen can only carry the “broad spectrum” label if it protects against UVA rays in addition to the standard UVB protection. Currently, many labels say their products offer “broad spectrum” protection when it doesn’t actually do anything to prevent UVA damage. The difference between the two is bigger than just a couple of letters.

  • UVB – These rays are more prevalent in the summer, especially mid-day, and can give you a sunburn. They are also responsible for causing most skin cancer. Most sunscreens protect against UVB, and the SPF level refers to UVB protection.
  • UVA – These rays are very strong and can go through both clothing and glass. They are constantly present, even on cloudy days. UVA rays can give you a tan, but since they go so deep into your skin, they also cause signs of aging by damaging cells underneath the top layer. It also increases your chances of skin cancer.

Each sunscreen will be tested to see how well it protects against both types of rays. If a sunscreen’s SPF level goes up, the UVA protection must go up as well, if it is labeled as “broad spectrum.”

Wording restrictions

In addition to stipulations about UVA/UVB protection levels, sunblock must now be tested for water resistance if the claim is to be printed on the bottle. The FDA will restrict bottles to a claim of either 40 minutes or 80 minutes of protection after getting wet if the manufacturer wants to include the “water resistant” tag, and it must pass a test for either one. Conversely, if a sunblock is not water resistant, it must include a warning stating as much. A WebMD article entitled “FDA Announces New Sunscreen Rules” discusses some other restrictions:

Sunscreen labels now will be able to claim that a product protects against skin cancer if it has an SPF rating of 15 or higher. And the product can claim to protect against sun-related premature skin aging if it has the broad-spectrum designation.

However, products will not be allowed to claim they “block” the sun or that they prevent skin cancer or aging. They also can’t say they last for more than two hours, unless proof of longer protection is submitted to the FDA.

Sunblock less than 15 SPF will no longer be able to claim that it helps prevent skin cancer. On the other end, it also cannot claim to have an SPF greater than “50+” because levels higher than 50 have not proven any more effective than SPF 50. The FDA is also questioning manufacturers about the effectiveness of spray sunscreen.

Some experts are perturbed that the FDA took 33 years to actually process and implement safety standards for sunscreen products, but others are just thrilled that consumers will be more informed about how to keep their skin safe through these new rules, which are set to become effective in the summer of 2012.

Do you wear sunscreen? If so, what kind?

Learn more about how sun exposure on the lips may even lead to oral cancer.

Learn more about the new sunscreen regulations at the WebMD FAQ page.

1 Comment
  1. While the new FDA Guidelines are welcome (after 33 years) I do not feel that they go far enough. They do not address toxicity issues when approving new UVA filter such as hormone disruption and they still allow manufacturers to use vitamin A which breaks down in sunlight and causes skin problems.

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