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Policy & Government

FDA regulations on sunscreen to help consumers shop smarter

With rising skin cancer numbers, FDA attempts to curb consumer confusion on sunscreen.

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Now that the deadline imposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for sunscreen companies to have tested their products to ensure they can label them “broad spectrum” have passed, some sunscreen manufacturers say this can only mean good for consumers.


There are a lot of misconceptions about sunscreen, said David Kudlow, president of All Terrain, which specializes in natural sunscreens, and the new FDA regulations will help consumers shop smarter.

“We think [the new regulations are] a good idea for a couple of reasons,” Kudlow said, adding that one is to level the playing field to eliminate unfair marketing practices among manufacturers and another is to “make it easier for consumers to understand what they’re buying in a product.”

But, Kudlow added, the key is not only to educate consumers, but also to educate specialty retailers that sell sunscreen products.

SNEWS has been reporting on FDA regulations on sunscreen manufacturers since 2010 when it published a Maggie Award-nominated series on the subject.

More recently we reported the FDA guidelines wouldn’t have a major negative impact on the outdoor and fitness industry’s key players. It seems that sentiment hasn’t changed.

The guidelines were the following:

  • Manufacturers must test products to ensure they protect from both UVB and UVA rays before they can label items “broad-spectrum.”
  • Manufacturers must test products to see how long they resist water and products cannot be labeled waterproof, only water-resistant. Companies can now specify whether their products are water resistant for 40 or 80 minutes, which is determined by the testing.
  • Any product with an SPF (sun protection factor, which primarily determines the protection against sunburn, caused by UVB rays) lower than 15 must have a warning that the product will not protect against sun cancer (primarily caused by both UVB and UVA rays).
  • Products cannot claim an SPF rating of more than 50.

The FDA has noted this week is the deadline for all sunscreen manufacturers to adhere to the regulations. Manufacturers had to pay a hefty sum to get their products tested for both broad-spectrum protection and water-resistance, but Tom Ferries, marketing director for Beyond Coastal, said though he doesn’t recall the exact price of the testing it was money well spent.

“It was a lot of money but you absolutely have to do it otherwise you’re out of business,” Ferries said.

Representatives from sunscreen companies said the regulations relieve consumers of the false sense of security that comes with a higher SPF rating and misleading terms like “sunblock” and “waterproof” — now both banned.

Ferries explained that lotions with SPF 15 protect consumers from about 90 percent of UVB rays; SPF 30 protects from 97 percent, and SPF 60 protects from 98 percent, so a person doesn’t really get much more benefit from higher ratings.

“It doesn’t behoove a person to use a SPF higher than 50,” Ferries said. “It gives a consumer a false sense of security and they may feel they don’t need to reapply but everyone needs to reapply every two to two-and-a-half hours.”

Sunscreen ‘not magic bullet’
Despite the abundance of sun-protective products out there – including sunscreens – consumers are still getting skin cancer at record rates. The New York Times reported that even with sunscreen sales nearing $1 billion a year, melanoma diagnoses have risen almost 2 percent a year since 2000.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent numbers, there are more than 61,000 people who are diagnosed with melanomas of the skin and nearly 9,200 people who died from melanomas of the skin.

As a retailer the skin cancer epidemic is something you can actively participate in preventing, all while helping your bottom line.

Consumers are becoming more aware of the detrimental effects of sun exposure and even in Tilley Endurables’ home base of Toronto the morning news addresses it.

“I noticed that they start the local weather by saying how strong the sun is for the day,” said David Kappele, director of Tilley Endurables, which specializes in hats and sun-protective clothing.

As a result, consumers are not only looking for more effective sunscreens but also realizing that sunscreen is not their only line of defense against the sun’s harmful UV rays. Hats and clothing are another effective way to battle UV exposure.

While sunscreen protection is measured in SPF (which, again, only protects against UVB rays), clothing is measured in UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) and measures the

Not sure how to sell sun-protective clothing? Check out our Retail College that can teach you to do just that.