FDA releases new rules for sunscreens, Myrtle Beach Dermatologist says it's not enough

Sarah Grimsley, Taylor Minton, Dannah Minton and Susan Riley say they apply sunscreen every hour to prevent burning. / Lindsey Theis

New regulations from the Food and Drug Administration issued Tuesday should make shopping through the sunscreen aisle at the store a little easier for beach goers along the Grand Strand.

Currently, the FDA protection standards apply only to ultraviolet B rays, which cause sunburn. Under the new rules, they will also have to protect against the more penetrating ultraviolet A rays, which are associated with skin cancer.

The last time the U.S. passed sunscreen guidelines was more than 30 years ago, in 1978. The new rules are mostly for product labels, and are designed to enhance the effectiveness of sunscreens and make them easier to use.

Consumers have often been told to look for the SPF, which rates how the effective the sun cream is at screening UVB rays. Above the SPF, some products have labels that also say "broad spectrum." Now to be able to keep that "broad spectrum" distinction, the product must do an acceptable job blocking both types of damaging rays.

Now, sunscreens with less than an SPF of 15, or that aren't "broad spectrum" will have to carry a warning label: "This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging." These changes go into effect on labels starting next summer.

Also under the new rules:

  • The FDA will prohibit sunscreen marketing claims like "waterproof" and "sweatproof," which the agency said "are exaggerations of performance."
  • The FDA also proposes capping the highest SPF value at 50, unless companies can provide results of further testing that support a higher number.
  • FDA says manufacturers must phase out a four-star system currently used by some companies to rate UVA protection.

Dr. Robert Bibb of Waccamaw Dermatology says the dermatologist community was disappointed with the outcome of the regulations released today. Many doctors were hoping for more clarity in the muddled confusion of SPF, oxides, and other ingredients that often can confuse consumers, he says. Bibb says mostly, doctors were hoping for a measurement system for consumers to be put on labels, so everyone could understand what is affect against blocking against A rays.

"SPF is B-rays only. We don't have a measurement system in place yet that tells you how you're expected against A rays," he adds.

Mostly, Bibb says, if consumers are worried about sunscreen on the market today, they should look for two things. He says the best products that are over the counter right now that can also protect against some A-rays are those that contain an ingredient called Mexoyrl. He also adds the average person should apply enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass, which few people actually do. He also says that if you get in the water, or are in the sun for longer than an hour or two, you should apply another shot glass sized amount of sunscreen. Given that figure, an average 8 once bottle of sunscreen would last a day at most for a single individual. A family of four on vacation for a week would require many more bottles.

Some beach-goers opt to build a base tan before beaching it, in hopes of saving on the sunscreen and passing on the burn. Bibb says that's not a good idea either.

"If you get A-rays, you're going to get a tan. If you get a tan you have damage. If you damage you are going to wrinkle, and increase your chances of skin cancer cells," he says.

The AP contributed to this report.