Just in time for summer 2011, new regulations on what sunscreen manufacturers are allowed to post on their products have been issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The changes, which have been in discussion for a number of years, are an attempt to clarify what protections a particular sunscreen may offer.
The biggest, and probably the most noticeable, change is the limit on the sun protection factor (SPF) rating. It used to be a company could list an SPF rating of 15, 50, 75, or whatever number they liked. This number was linked to the amount of sun protecting chemicals are included in the sunscreen. The FDA’s new rules do not allow for any number above SPF 50 to be numerically listed, and any company that wishes to list a higher SPF rating can only label it as SPF 50+. The FDA determined anything above SPF 50 had unproven ability to actually provide protection above a sunscreen with only SPF 50.
There are also changes to the labeling of ultraviolet protection and whether a sunscreen can claim to reduce skin cancer and skin aging. Also, sunscreens can no longer claim to be water proof.
If a sunscreen has proven effectiveness to protect against UVA and UVB rays, than it can be labeled as "broad spectrum." Both UVA and UVB rays are known to contribute to skin cancer, sunburn, and premature aging. If a sunscreen is both broad spectrum, as newly defined, and has an SPF of at least 15, it can claim to help reduce the risk of harm associated with exposure to the sun.
Finally, sunscreens can claim to be resistant to water but they cannot be labeled as waterproof. The bottle must also indicate how long a sunscreen will last when exposed to water. This will help consumers understand that sunscreen must be reapplied regularly when exposed to water as it diminishes it’s effectiveness.