Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up
Font Size

FDA Sheds Light on Sunscreens

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to help protect consumers from skin damage caused by excessive sun exposure.

Download a PDF from FDA showing the new sunscreen labels.

Recommended Related to FDA Center

The Word is Out on Unapproved H1N1 Products

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is informing consumers of—and protecting them against—potential harm associated with unapproved products claiming to diagnose, prevent, or otherwise act against the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus. Within the past two weeks, FDA has urged caution regarding promotions and Internet sites offering products for sale that claim to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the H1N1 flu virus enhanced efforts to warn about potentially deceptive H1N1 products, and...

Read the The Word is Out on Unapproved H1N1 Products article > >

The new measures include the following:

  • final regulations that establish standards for testing the effectiveness of sunscreen products and require labeling that accurately reflects test results
  • a proposed regulation that would limit the maximum SPF value on sunscreen labeling to “SPF 50+”
  • a data request for safety and effectiveness information for sunscreen products formulated in certain dosage forms (e.g., sprays)
  • a draft guidance for sunscreen manufacturers on how to test and label their products in light of these new measures.

These measures are necessary, says Lydia Velazquez, PharmD, in FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Regulation Development, because “our scientific understanding has grown. We want consumers to understand that not all sunscreens are created equal.”

“This new information will help consumers know which products offer the best protection from the harmful rays of the sun,” Velazquez says.  “It is important for consumers to read the entire label, both front and back, in order to choose the appropriate sunscreen for their needs.”

Everyone is potentially susceptible to sunburn and the other detrimental effects of exposure to UV radiation.

FDA's Final Regulations

The final regulations, which become effective in one year, establish a standard test for over-the-counter (sold without a prescription) sunscreen products that will determine which products are allowed to be labeled as “Broad Spectrum.” 

Products that pass this test will provide protection against both ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) and ultraviolet A radiation (UVA).  Sunburn is primarily caused by UVB.  Both UVB and UVA can cause sunburn, skin cancer, and premature skin aging.  A certain percentage of a broad spectrum product’s total protection is against UVA. 

Under the new regulations, sunscreen products that protect against all types of sun-induced skin damage will be labeled "Broad Spectrum" and “SPF 15” (or higher) on the front.

The new labeling will also tell consumers on the back of the product that sunscreens labeled as both “Broad Spectrum” and “SPF 15” (or higher) not only protect against sunburn, but, if used as directed with other sun protection measures, can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. For these broad spectrum products, higher SPF (Sun Protection Factor) values also indicate higher levels of overall protection.

By contrast, any sunscreen not labeled as “Broad Spectrum” or that has an SPF value between 2 and 14, has only been shown to help prevent sunburn.

Reynold Tan, a scientist in FDA’s Division of Nonprescription Regulation Development, notes that FDA has been developing testing and labeling requirements for sunscreen products for decades. However, only recently have the data become sufficient to establish an accurate and reliable test for broad spectrum UV protection, he says.

WebMD Public Information from the FDA