The FDA first announced plans for sunscreen rules in 1978, and they were finally released yesterday. It’s about time: Did you know that under previous rules, sunscreen manufacturers don’t have to test how well products protect against UVA rays, the type of rays most implicated in skin cancer (and wrinkles)? They’re only required to test protection against sunburn-causing UVB rays, which is what SPF measurements are based on.
The new FDA rules will:
- Require all sunscreens to be tested for how well they protect against UVA rays
- Require all products that either don’t protect against both UVA and UVB rays or have an SPF below 15 to carry a warning: “This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”
- Ban the use of misleading terms such as “waterproof,” “sweatproof,” and “sunblock,” which the FDA says are “exaggerations of performance”
But do the new rules don’t go far enough? The FDA continues to allow oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate to be used in sunscreens, though both chemicals are thought to cause toxic side effects. And while an earlier draft of the rules nixed SPF numbers higher than 50, this was left out of the final version. Higher SPFs are a subject of scientific contention, but like the doctor quoted in this New York Times article, many experts say sunscreens with SPFs higher than 50 “expose people to more irritating sunscreen ingredients without meaningful added protection.”
The Environmental Working Group is also unsatisfied with the new rules, claiming (among other things) that the FDA’s requirements for UVA protection are too low. “FDA’s rule will allow most products on the U.S. market to use the label ‘broad spectrum sunscreen,’” said EWG scientist David Andrews. “Broad spectrum” is sunscreen-lingo for ‘protects against both UVB and UVA rays.’ EWG notes that 20 percent of products that meet the new FDA standards could not be sold in Europe, where UVA standards are more strict.