FDA’s New Sunscreen Labeling Rules Go Into Effect, But Without A Cap On SPF Ratings

We’ve heard the Food and Drug Administration say it once, and we’ll reiterate it again: buying a sunscreen with an SPF of over 50 doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get extra protection from the sun’s rays. The FDA’s new rules regarding sunscreen labels have been in the works for a while and are going into effect this summer, but despite concerns, many products will still showcase an SPF rating over over 50.

Critics of the over SPF sunscreens include the Environmental Working Group, which surveyed 1,400 sunscreen products recently to find out which were adhering to the FDA’s new rules, reports the Associated Press. Those requirements say sunscreens can’t use terms like “waterproof,” which could mislead consumers into thinking they don’t have to reapply. Sunscreens also must now filter out both Ultraviolet A and B rays, known as “broad spectrum” protection.

But although the FDA itself has concerns about how effective any sunscreen is above a sun protection factor of 50, one in seven of the products screened by the EWG still boasted ratings higher than that.

When the FDA said in 2011 it would consider a cap on SPFs, it said that “labeling a product with a specific SPF value higher than 50 would be misleading to the consumer.”

Our friends at Consumers Union agreed back in 2011 when the FDA was considering a cap on labeling anything higher than 50 SPF, in favor of just calling it 50+ SPF, noting:

Our guidance has been that above 30 SPF, there’s not much more protection. We think the 50 SPF limit is a good step. Our concern is that consumers might mistake an SPF of say 100 to provide twice the protection of an SPF 50, when in fact the increased protection is only incremental.

So why no cap, now that the other rules are in place? Part of the problem on instituting an SPF cap could be pushback against regulators from major companies like Johnson & Johnson, who argue that higher SPF ratings provide benefits.

The FDA is now mulling over the cap once again and looking at new studies and weighing comments from across the industry, but considering it took decades for the agency to set sunscreen rules the first time around, it likely won’t happen very soon.

In the meantime, don’t be swayed by a higher SPF rating — either stay out of the sun under an umbrella or with the shade of a hat, and reapply, reapply and oh yeah, reapply. If you’re using spray-on sunscreen, you might want to double up and add an extra coat.

Take it from someone who spent her childhood bathing in aloe — the sun is no joke. It will find you.

Consumer group flags high SPF ratings on sunscreen [Associated Press]