The Food and Drug Administration announced plans in July to bring sunscreen regulations up to date. The new standards for sunscreen labels will provide better information to consumers who will soon be able to determine which products are most effective at reducing risk of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.The new regulations have been 33 years in the making. Initial guidelines were first proposed in 1978.
The purpose of the new regulations will be “to normalize the descriptors used on sunscreens so the consumer is empowered,” Weill Medical College Prof. Jonathan Zippin, dermatology said. “Currently, the consumer has no way to know what’s good and what’s not good ... There needs to be an SPF-like system for UVA [radiation].”
Sunlight contains two kinds of harmful radiation: ultraviolet-B (UVB), which causes sunburns, and ultraviolet-A (UVA), which causes skin wrinkling. Both can cause cancer.
“Up until this summer the FDA was only regulating ingredients that block UVB radiation,” said Adam Friedman, director of dermatologic research and associate residency program director at the Unified Division of Dermatology of Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
A few years ago, the FDA considered implementing a system involving SPF numbers in addition to a rating of one to four stars to correct this fault. This was, however, deemed too confusing than not. “The public public and medical community did not favor this approach,” Friedman said.
Instead of stars, the FDA has chosen to standardize the term “broad spectrum,” which will appear on the labels of those sunscreens that are deemed to adequately block both UVA and UVB radiation.
In addition, “products can no longer say they are ‘waterproof’ and ‘sweatproof’, because that just isn’t true,” Friedman said. Instead, a time frame will clarify how long a sunscreen should provide protection for when users are in water or perspiring heavily.
Another change includes the addition of a warning on sunscreens with an SPF lower than 15 stating that there is no evidence that such sunscreens will help prevent sunburn.
A proposal has also been made to limit the maximum approved SPF to “50+,” since there is a lack of data demonstrating added benefits from SPFs above 50. This component has yet to be approved.
“You don’t really gain anything above SPF 50,” Zippin said. In fact, he said, considering the increased concentration of the sunscreen agents and the minimal added protection you receive from sunscreens above SPF 50, such sunscreens may even put you at greater risk for an irritant or allergic reaction.
Friedman referred to sunscreens labeled above SPF 50 as “a misleading marketing ploy,” and expressed a desire for the FDA to come down harder on such labels.
Both Zippin and Friedman recommended generally applying an SPF 30 sunscreen with “broad spectrum” protection thirty minutes prior to sun exposure and further to reapply every two hours. Both preferred not to endorse any specific brands.
“About two ounces or a shotglass full should cover your entire body,” Zippin said. “Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be wearing sun screen.”
Although he said he believes that more can be done to improve the sunscreen industry — especially regarding the approval of certain nanoparticles that testing has proven harmless so far —Friedman considers the changes to be a “step in the right direction.”
“I think it will be a huge leap forward,” commented Zippin.