New Sunscreen Rules: No More Over-the-Top Claims

by pharmacy on September 14, 2011

After four years of development, the FDA has finally published the new rules about sunscreen labels, and that’s good news for consumers.

Consider how we choose a sunscreen. We’ve all heard the warnings about picking a high sun protection factor (SPF) but how many consumers know that SPF only refers to UVB rays, leaving tender skin exposed to UVA rays? While UVA exposure is less likely to result in the short-term painful sunburn, it contributes to long term skin damage, including premature aging and skin cancer. Which makes SPF a dangerously deceptive term.

The new labels will specify whether the product protects against both UVA and UVB rays. If the label says “Broad Spectrum SPF,” the sunscreen meets the FDA regulations for protecting against all harmful sun radiation – resulting in true sun protection. The SPF value will indicate the level of protection. In addition, only approved broad-spectrum sunscreen products with an SPF rating of 15 or higher will be allowed to make claims of protection against cancer and premature aging on the label, and even those will require a disclaimer – if used as directed and along with other protection measures. Sunscreens without broad spectrum protection, and any sunscreen with an SPF factor lower than 15, will carry labels that make no claims strong than “help prevent sunburn.” 

Another change under consideration is capping the SPF levels at 50. The FDA says that there hasn’t been enough research to support claims that higher number result in significantly more protection. Other changes already approved remove deceptive language from sunscreen product labeling. Manufacturers won’t be able to call their products waterproof, sweat-proof, or sunblock, because the words overstate the effectiveness of the product. For now, SPF 80 products will still be labeled accordingly, but manufacturers have to add whether the product is effective for the full time allotment during activities like swimming or sweating, of if moisture reduces the effective time.

The original changes proposed years ago suggested a four-star rating system for product efficacy, but the powers that be decided that would be too complicated for consumers. The changes they settled on are all about clear, concise language and truth in labeling. With more than a million new cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year, I can only say: “Bravo! Why did it take so long?” Here’s a look at the new FDA approved sunscreen label.

 It’s a shame that there has to be such regulations. Wouldn’t it be nice if manufacturers put the truth on their labels voluntarily? If whole wheat bread was made primarily with whole wheat? If 100% juice was actually 100% juice, every single time, and we didn’t have to read the ingredients to be sure?

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