Because no federal regulations for sunscreens exist in the U.S., sunscreen manufacturers have had free reign for decades, allowing them to slap unsubstantiated claims such as “waterproof,” “broad spectrum” and “all-day protection” on their packaging. A set of rules for sunscreen safety was considered in 1978 but never established. Now, 33 years later, the FDA is laying down the law with a new regulations for sunscreen products.
New federal regulations for sunscreen products will prohibit manufacturers from putting claims such as "waterproof" and "sweatproof" on their labels. Photo By Sena/Courtesy Flickr.
The new rules, which will go into effect in 2012, will require sunscreens to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. (Most sunscreens currently don’t offer protection from UVA rays, which cause wrinkles and cancer.) The new rules will also prohibit sunscreen manufacturers from labeling their products as “waterproof” and “sweatproof,” as no sunscreen product actually is. Instead, manufacturers will be required to list how long, in minutes, their sunscreens are water-resistant, based on test results. Sunscreens will also be required to have an SPF of 15 in order to claim that they prevent sunburn and reduce the risk of cancer.
Missing from the list of regulations is any rule limiting SPF. Although studies have shown that SPFs higher than 50 don’t offer any additional protection, the FDA has declined to enter what it's calling the “SPF arms race.”
Although the new regulations will improve the sunscreen industry, they don’t address other issues such as sunscreens’ damaging effect on marine life and the use of toxic ingredients such as parabens and vitamin A, which can speed up the development of skin cancer. Even once the new regulations are in place, we still believe natural sunscreens free of toxic ingredients and made with biodegradable ingredients offer a better alternative to most of the products lining the sunscreen aisle. For a list of natural sunscreen reviews, see Natural Home & Garden’s Summer Survival Guide.