FDA Slathers Sunscreen Labels with More Protection

For over 30 years the Food and Drug Administration has been wrestling with the rules governing suntan lotion. About five years ago, the federal agency began urging sunscreen companies to give consumers better information about sun protection products.

Now, the FDA is announcing new rules this week that make deciphering sunblock much easier.

Since it began overseeing sunblock makers the FDA only required companies to protect against ultraviolet (UV) B rays. Those rays cause painful sunburns. But the other UVA rays are the bits of solar radiation that cause skin cancer.

Now, the FDA has created the term “broad spectrum” which will begin appearing on sunscreen labels in the next few weeks. Any product that meets the broad spectrum standard is deemed to help block both types of solar rays, UVA and UVB. The FDA is limiting the top Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating to 50+.

Scientists have not been able to prove that sunblock above SPF 50 protects wearers any better. But the FDA is leaving the door open so if future research finds that SPF 100 is much better at blocking UVA rays than SPF 50 labels may change again.

Most companies knew this change was coming and have begun putting protective information about UVA and UVB rays on packaging for several years. Any sunscreen between SPF 2 and SPF 15 that doesn’t meet the broad spectrum requirement will get a warning label, saying the product has not been shown to prevent skin cancer or early skin aging.

Many dermatologists recommend using sunblock with a minimum of SPF 30 to protect from harmful cancer causing UVA rays and painful UVB ray sunburns. They used to recommend a minimum of SPF 15 for extended sun exposure. Now they are suggesting using sunscreens with a higher SPF and to reapply lotions and sprays often.

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