New Sunscreen Rules a Plus But More Could Be Done, Experts Say

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Experts are taking stock of long-awaited sunscreen rules approved by federal health officials this week that include tossing popular terms such as sunblock, waterproof and sweatproof from the sun proection lexicon.

Under the new guidelines, sunscreen products can only claim broad-spectrum protection if they're proven effective against two types of rays — UVB and UVA — and carry an SPF, or sun protection rating, of 15 or higher. The rules, which take effect next summer, also ban use of the terms sunblock, waterproof and sweatproof, saying their claims of effectiveness are overstated.

New York dermatologist Kavita Mariwalla, Director of Mohs and Dermatological Surgery at St. Luke's Roosevelt and Beth Israel, said the rules are a good first step but she'd like to see them taken farther.

"One of the things we'd like to see happen is a separate ratings scale for UVA protection," she said. "One of the things that the American Academy of Dermatology and a number of dermatological groups have been working on is a rating system with pluses."

The Food and Drug Administration said both UVB, or ultraviolet B rays, associated with sunburn and UVA, or ultraviolet A rays, associated with skin cancer and aging are harmful.

The agency said the new rules are designed to raise the standards of sunscreen products, so they can better protect against sun damages. Under the new rules, products must pass a certain broad spectrum threshold to make the latter two claims.

But Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group, which has pushed for more effective standards for many years, said the newly approved rules aren't as strong as they should be, especially when it comes to gauging the effectiveness of products against harmful UVA rays.

"With UVA damages, they accrue over a lifetime, and are related to long-term risks of melanoma, and other types of sun damages, that you won't see immediately," she said.

Lunder said the new broad spectrum standards are too low for UVA protection, and don't provide enough information for consumers to differentiate between the effectiveness of different products with the label. She estimated that roughly 20 to 30 percent of the products that pass the broad spectrum test in the U.S., would not be allowed to be sold in Europe, where many countries already have a separate scale to measure the effectiveness of UVA protection.

The FDA is currently seeking comment on another proposal, which would cap SPF values at 50, citing only an incremental difference for products that offer higher protection. If approved, that would require products with higher values to be labeled 50-plus.