The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is finally making changes to how sunscreens are marketed in the United States as part of the Agency’s ongoing efforts to ensure that sunscreens meet modern day standards for safety and effectiveness, while helping consumers have the information they need so they can choose the right sun protection for themselves and their families. However, new labels won’t be enforced for a year more or less. What can you do in the meantime on hot summer days?

Prior rules on sunscreens dealt almost exclusively with protection against only ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun, and did not address skin cancer and early skin aging caused by ultraviolet A (UVA) rays.

After reviewing the latest science, the FDA determined that sufficient data are available to establish a standard “broad spectrum” test procedure that measures UVA radiation protection in relation to the amount of UVB radiation protection. This designation will give consumers better information on which sunscreen products offer the greatest protection from both UVA and UVB exposure that can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer.

Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research states:

“The FDA has evaluated the data and developed testing and labeling requirements for sunscreen products, so that manufacturers can modernize their product information and consumers can be well informed on which products offer the greatest benefit.”

UVA, while less intense than UVB, is 30 to 50 times more prevalent than UVB and penetrates to deeper layers of the skin. UVA is the dominant tanning ray, and is closely linked to skin aging. It also damages skin DNA and is believed to cause skin cancer.

Products will have to specify whether they protect only against UVB (SPF rating alone) or whether they protect against UVA as well as UVB (SPF rating plus “broad spectrum” claim). In addition, sunscreen products that claim to be water resistant will have to undergo water-resistance testing. They will have to specify the number of minutes of “swimming/sweating” for which the product continues to protect.

The new labeling rules won’t go into effect for about one year. So here is what you can do to protect yourself in the meantime:

  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of least 15 daily. Wearing sunscreen in the early fall is just as important, too.
  • Wear protective clothing outdoors, including a wide-brimmed hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and pants.
  • Stay out of the sun during the midday hours (10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.).
  • Use a higher SPF when at higher elevations.
  • Avoid sunbathing and tanning salons. UV rays from artificial sources such as tanning beds and sunlamps are just as dangerous as those from the sun.
  • Set a good example for your children by always using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing.

Environmental Working Group spokesman Alex Formuzis continues:

“It’s now been 33 years since FDA first announced plans to implement safety standards for sunscreens. When FDA drags its feet for more than three decades to set up some standards for the sunscreen industry, it’s clearly not the federal government’s finest effort.”

Maybe persons should consider using sun screens indoors as well. According to a recent report, 18.1% of women and 6.3% of men tanned indoors in the past 12 months. Furthermore, in a recent Archives of Dermatology study of 2,869 white men and women between the ages of 18 and 64, just 13.3% of women and 4.2% men knew that avoiding tanning beds could reduce their risk of skin cancer.

Tanning lamps and beds emit harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which is linked with a higher risk of all forms of skin cancer, including potentially deadly melanomas. On average, indoor tanners are 74% more like to develop melanomas than non-tanners. They are also 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.

Sources: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Archives of Dermatology

Written by Sy Kraft