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Skin Care—Then and Now: Sunscreen

By: Ulrike Jacob
Posted: April 30, 2013, from the May 2013 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Sunscreen Ingredients Chart

Sunscreen Ingredients Chart

Figure courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency.

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In 1978, the FDA took limited steps to regulate the safety and effectiveness of sunscreens, and they were mainly focused on SPF testing and labeling. Although not all steps were enforced, the original proposal stated: “In the long run, suntanning is not good for the skin.” Who knew? Then in 1988, the FDA approved the UVA-only sunscreen ingredient avobenzone. Until this time, other approved sunscreens were UVB filters only.

In 2006, the FDA missed a deadline set by Congress for the approval of proposed sunscreen guidelines. The FDA finalized the proposal a year later. In 2010, with the guidelines still not approved, the target date was yet again pushed back.

In the summer of 2011, more than 30 years after its first stab at sunscreen regulation, the FDA set down legally binding rules on the marketing of sun protection products. Not so surprisingly, the proposed approval date set for June 2012 was set back to Dec. 17, 2012, but is now in full effect for all but manufacturers of drug products with annual sales below $25,000. These smaller manufacturers must comply by Dec. 17, 2013. These new FDA rules will help to clear up confusion over the following issues when purchasing sun protection products and include the following mandates.

Broad-spectrum. A sunscreen must meet broad-spectrum testing, which measures the UVA protection in relation to the UVB protection in a product. Sunscreens that pass the broad-spectrum test may be labeled “broad-spectrum,” indicating that they protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Only sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer or premature aging of the skin.

SPF. This is a measure on how long a sunscreen will protect skin against sunburn. The FDA has proposed that SPF will be capped at 50+ unless the manufacturer can provide information that supports a higher SPF number. SPF higher than 50 has been shown to offer minimal additional protection compared to sunscreens with SPF 50 and under.

Find out more about the impact of the sun on skin and the best sun protection methods from the lesson on sun in the Physiology of the Skin series, brought to you by Skin Inc. Video Education.