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411 on SPF: New FDA Sunscreen Regulations

Google “sunscreen” and you’ll find that it has been in the news rather frequently lately: Recent media reports debating the validity of sunscreen manufacturer’s claims prompted the American Academy of Dermatology to issue a response calling sunscreen “ … an important tool in the fight against skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.”

New FDA regulations aim to eliminate common sunscreen misnomers and better protect consumers from sun-induced skin damage. These regulations impose new guidelines for all over-the-counter sunscreen products, requiring sunscreen manufacturers to comply with numerous labeling and testing mandates.

Under the new guidelines, sunscreen manufacturers will be prohibited from marketing their product as “waterproof” or “sweatproof,” two terms commonly found on sunscreen bottles. A claim of “water resistant” is permitted, provided the bottle’s front label also indicates how many minutes the user will be protected during swimming or sweating (a span of either 40 or 80 minutes, which is determined by standard testing).

Labels must state that a product is broad spectrum if it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. If over SPF 15, these products will also indicate that they protect against sunburn, skin aging and skin cancer.

On the contrary, sunscreens that are not broad spectrum or have an SPF under 15 must state that they are only indicated for the prevention of sunburn, not skin cancer or aging.

In addition, there is little research to indicate that an SPF over 50 provides enhanced protection from UV rays. The FDA is cracking down on SPF values considered to be egregious (50 and above), instead allowing manufacturers to label applicable products only as “SPF 50+.”

Though the regulations were initially slated to become effective in mid-June, the FDA has extended the window for manufacturer compliancy through December 17, 2012 to avoid any potential sunscreen stock outages throughout the busy summer months.

The FDA also urges consumers to thoroughly navigate a sunscreen’s front and back labels to better understand its protection capabilities and find the product that’s best for their skin.