New FDA Guidelines on Sunscreens

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. -Confucius

This is certainly true of sunscreens. “Broad spectrum, UVA, UVB, avobenzone, oxybenzone, parsol, sensitive skin, titanium dioxide, SPF 15, 30, 45, 50, 55, 60, 70, 75, 100, 100+, waterproof, sweatproof, spray, cream, lotion, antioxidant…”

We spend about $700 million in sunscreens every year, and many people don’t have a clue as to what’s good or bad, or a waste of money. The Food and Drug Administration has been meaning to help you out with this problem for a while now. Actually for over 30 years (who says nothing gets done in government?). The F.D.A. has made a final decision on sunscreen labels. They’ve sought to make labels simple and accurate to help you choose the right one:

1. The sunscreen must protect against both UVA and UVB rays; that is, it must be broad spectrum.

2. To be labelled as “protecting against skin cancer,” the sunscreen must be an SPF of at least 15. The labels will likely be capped at SPF 50 because SPFs greater than 50 seem to be of little additional benefit.

3. Sunscreens can no longer be labelled as “waterproof” or “sweat proof,” as neither is physically possible, therefore, rendering the claim “misleading.” Sunscreens will be labelled as effective in water for 40 minutes or 80 minutes which is accurate and much more useful.

This simple system should help consumers make better choices, but some say the F.D.A. didn’t go far enough. They did not comment on the safety of various sunscreen ingredients. They have also not loosened up enough to allow for other sunscreens that are widely used in Europe to be sold here in the U.S.

Do you think the F.D.A was too strict or didn’t go far enough?

Photo: Wandering Magpie, Flickr

3 thoughts on “New FDA Guidelines on Sunscreens”

  1. I think it is a long-overdue step in the right direction, but I really think they should have done more regarding the safety of the chemical/absorbing sunscreen ingredients. Hopefully the proposed Safe Chemicals and Safe Cosmetics Acts of 2011 will pass soon and the FDA will have to take more action in this area.

  2. Not far enough. They bestow the ‘Broad Spectrum’ rating to products that block a portion of the UVA rays that can and should be blocked. They capped it at 370 but we know that rays between 370 and 400 do harm skin. Yes, the harm is less intense, but it’s harm none the less AND it’s super easy to block those rays in a product. Add a mineral ingredient like zinc oxide or use Mexoryl SX (oops, only available in Europe). Well, it’s curious. I just wrote a treatise on the FDA changes, which of course includes my opinion. Link is Bottom line: There are some things I like about the FDA changes, but it’s not all perfect and there are important things everybody needs to know to really judge the protection of their sunscreen.

  3. This is a good level of strictness, but we’ll see what the marketers and legal minds can come up with to circumvent the truth. I would not be surprised if sunscreen manufacturers began to put those little paper booklets on the side of the bottle, since most people don’t bother to read them.

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