FDA Says Not All Sunscreens Are Alike (and None Are Waterproof)

School’s almost out here in New Jersey which means that many will indeed be heading for the Jersey shore. The FDA announced new rules on Tuesday to clarify which sunscreens provide the best protection against the sun and also discounted manufacturers’ claims that they are waterproof. 

To be said to offer “broad spectrum” protection, sunscreens must now protect against both two kinds of the sun’s radiation, UVB and UVA. Only sunscreens that have an SPF of 15 or higher can make the claims that they help to prevent sunburn and also reduce the risks of skin cancer and early skin aging. Both types of radiation cause cancer: UVB radiation causes burning while UVA rays causes wrinkling.

As the New York Times notes, the rules have been under FDA consideration since 1978. The sunscreen industry is a $680 million domestic market and manufacturers are seeking to expand, noting that there are numerous other sunscreen agents approved in Europe and Japan, but not yet in the US. That may not be a bad thing, considering the statistics for skin cancer and the likelihood that people are likely to expose themselves to more of the sun’s rays, if they think they are using more potent sunscreens. As the New York Times points out:

More than two million people in the United States are treated each year for the two most common types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell, and more than 68,000 receive a diagnosis of melanoma, the most deadly form of the disease. Sunscreens have not been shown to prevent the first case of basal cell carcinoma, but they delay reoccurrences of basal cell and have been shown to prevent squamous cell and melanoma.

Federal regulators aren’t yet finished screening sunscreens as they have “yet to decide whether to end an SPF arms race in which manufacturers are introducing sunscreens with SPF numbers of 70, 80 and 100 even though such lotions offer little more protection than those with an SPF of 50.” Dr. Warwick L. Morison, a professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins University and chairman of the photobiology committee for the Skin Cancer Foundation, expressed dismay that the FDA has not banned SPF numbers over 50 as “such products expose people to more irritating sunscreen ingredients without meaningful added protection.”

The best protection against sunburn is of course, to minimize exposure to the sun and to even avoid the sun altogether. That’s not possible in my household, as my son loves the beach and to be active outside. That means my blond and blue-eyed (Irish American) husband has to be out with him: We have bottles of sunscreen all over the house and in the car, as my husband has to use the stuff even in the winter. A teenage memory of being burnt to a proverbial crisp while visiting relatives in southern California taught him to always slather on the sunscreen (and to wear a hat).

So after you take your dip in the waves, too, make sure you use your common sense and reapply the sunscreen which, as the FDA reminds us, does wash away in the water.


Related Care2 Coverage

Arthritis Drug Provides Better Cancer Protection Than Sunscreen
10 Disturbing Sunscreen Secrets


Photo by Graham and Sheila.

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aj E.
aj E.3 years ago


jane richmond
jane richmond4 years ago

Great info

Juliet D.
judith sanders4 years ago

National Public Radio had an excellent interview with a scientist on this topic, and many callers' questions were answered: Listen to it here-


Also, it's fairly obvious in this uncredited photo that the baby has food on his face, not sunscreen.

Margot B.
Margot B.4 years ago

"Avoid the sun altogether?"
This another Care2 article that is not well researched nor providing sound advice. As well-known Dr. Joseph Mercola says: "sunscreen blocks your body's production of vitamin D. Most brands contain toxic free radical generators which I believe can increase your risk of disease." If you are interested in researching what is best for you and your family, start here: http://blogs.mercola.com/sites/vitalvotes/archive/2007/06/19/The-Sunscreen-Myth-How-Sunscreen-Products-Actually-Promote-Cancer.aspx
Sun exposure is very important to reducing cancers - such as breast and colorectal cancers. Burns are always bad, but zero sun exposure is also dangerous. Sunscreens are full of toxins that cause, not prevent cancer. Arm yourself with the facts.

francalina des stans
stella bleu4 years ago

Most sunscreen contain toxic ingredients, and you want to slather your kid with those?
Do your research before using anything on the shelf. Yes, Valerie, the brands you mention are full of cancer causing junk.
Check out the Environmental Working Group's website (EWG) for safe sunscreens.
Plenty of them. You just have to know the names!

Robert O.
Robert O.4 years ago

Thanks Kristina.

Philip S.
Philip S.4 years ago

Most sunscreens have cancer causing ingredients so do your research and get a product that doesn't.

Carole F.
Carole f.4 years ago

thanks for the info

Chaos Lad
Chaos Lad4 years ago

a good read! thanks.

Cynthia Blais
cynthia B.4 years ago

thankx it's good to be aware especially for children