Sunscreen testing and labeling rules that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized in December 2012 are now in effect for the first summer season. Among other things, the new rules require that (i) sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum” provide equal protection against both UVA and UVB rays; (ii) any product with a sun protection factor (SPF) lower than 15 carry a label warning indicating that the product does not protect against skin cancer; and (iii) products claim only to be water resistant, not waterproof or sweatproof, indicating the duration of water-resistant protection.

Industry watchdogs such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) assert that the new FDA rules “have not led to dramatically better sunscreens than those offered in previous years.” EWG reported that its review of sunscreen products found only “minimal improvements” in those on the market for the 2013 season, noting that “many sunscreens available on the U.S. market do not filter skin-damaging rays safely and effectively.” EWG researchers also purportedly found that out of more than 1,400 sunscreens, lotions, lip products, and make up products that the advocacy group reviewed, only 25 percent offer adequate sun protection and contain no “harmful ingredients.”

Speaking about more stringent regulations recently proposed by the Canadian government, EWG Senior Analyst Sonya Lunder said, “Sunscreen companies won’t make better products until they are forced to. EWG welcomes Canada’s efforts to improve sunscreen protection, particularly because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration appears unable or unwilling to wrap up its sunscreen rules more than thirty years in the making.”

Meanwhile, representatives of the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) have criticized EWG’s claims. “Despite the extensive and growing body of credible science demonstrating the safety, efficacy, and health benefits of sunscreens, the Environmental Working Group continues to promote false and misleading assertions about sunscreen products and their ingredients. Once again, the EWG report lacks the rigor and reliability of formal, expert scientific evaluation and is not peer-reviewed,” said Farah Ahmed, chair of PCPC’s sunscreen committee. “Our concern is that confusing, unsubstantiated claims could actually serve to discourage consumers from using sunscreen on themselves and their children.” See FDA Consumer Health Information, May 2013; Personal Care Products Council News Release, May 20, 2013; EWG News Release, May 20 and May 23, 2013.