US Food and Drug Administration proposes new regulations on sunscreen labeling

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The FDA wants sunscreen labels to clarify how effective the product is at protecting against UV rays.
Image: Axel Bührmann.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed new regulations, set to come into effect next year, to clarify sunscreen labels regarding the product's effectiveness against ultraviolet (UV) rays.

The regulations, which the FDA has been considering since 1978, would prohibit claims that a sunscreen is "waterproof" or "sweatproof", since the FDA believes these terms are misleading. Instead, the word "water-resistant" must be used, and the label must specify how long the product lasts in water. Sunscreens that are not water-resistant must include a warning.

Only sunscreens that protect against both UV-A and UV-B rays could be labeled "broad spectrum". Currently, the SPF reflects protection against only UVB, not UVA. If the SPF is less than 15, then the label also must warn the consumer that the product is less effective at protecting against skin cancer or sunburn. Labels would not be able to claim an SPF higher than 50, since there is little evidence that suggests that anything higher offers significantly better protection against UV. Dermatologist Dr. Neil Korman supports this regulation, saying that it would reduce consumers' inclination towards buying products with unnecessarily high SPFs.

The FDA is also investigating the safety of aerosol-spray sunscreen, until more is known about its effects on breathing. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) warns that the spray could cause lung damage. The EWG also discourages the use of sunscreens with bug repellant, and recommends practices that avoid substantial exposure to UV rays.