Doctors Speak Out: New FDA Sunscreen Rules

New proposed rules by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), if implemented, will likely change the way many people look at sunscreen.

Dermatological experts were unanimous in their support of the proposed regulations, which would stiffen sunscreen labeling and testing. Most notably, the proposed rules would include a standardized system to indicate protection from the sun's UVA rays -- a factor that is currently not accounted for in the well-known SPF rating system.

However, some dermatologists worry that the new system, which uses a system of stars rather than numbers, may be confusing to consumers.

Here is more of what the experts had to say:


Dr. Len Lichtenfeld

Deputy Chief Medical Officer

American Cancer Society

"This long-awaited proposal is a good first step in providing consumers better information on the value and limits of sunscreen use. The American Cancer Society recommends that sunscreens be part of a comprehensive effort to reduce exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, the most important known risk factor for skin cancers, including melanoma."

"Our own studies have shown that people often use sunscreens incorrectly, by not using enough sunscreen, not reapplying, or using sunscreens to seek more sun exposure. This proposed regulation has the potential to increase awareness about the proper use of sunscreens and remind people to take sun exposure seriously. The evidence suggests that by using sunscreen correctly, people can reduce their risk of melanoma, which each year claims the lives of some 8,000 Americans, as well other skin cancers."


Dr. Clifford Perlis

Director, Mohs and Dermatologic Surgery

Fox Chase Cancer Center

"These changes are extremely significant -- especially the inclusion of a measure of UVA protection. For some years, we've know that UVA exposure also plays a role in the development of skin cancer. Elsewhere in the world, others have taken the lead in quantifying protection from UVA exposure.

"It could be problematic to have one measure for UVA protection (stars) and a different one (SPF) for UVB. ... I don't think most consumers care about UVB vs. UVA protection; I think they are simply looking for sun protection. I am a bit concerned that using two different rating systems could lead to confusion."


Dr. James Spencer

Vice Chairman, Department of Dermatology

The Mount Sinai School of Medicine

"I think that this is really important because sunscreens are big part of American life now -- sales figures are $650 million a year -- so this is something we are all using. And labels are not consumer friendly; they are, in fact, a little misleading.

"The most obvious thing is that SPF is not a consumer number, and it is not consumer friendly. SPF 15 blocks 94 percent of UVB rays. SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of UVB rays -- it is not double the protection as consumers would assume.

"If this makes it easier to for consumers to use [sunscreen], that's great."


Dr. David R. Lambert

Director, Dermatologic Surgery

The Ohio State University Medical Center

"I'm all in favor of the labeling changes. The first two make it easier for the average consumer to be assured they are getting a product with a good level of UVA and UVB protection... The last two are good consumer education statements."


Dr. Darrell Rigel

Clinical Professor of Dermatology

New York University Medical Center

"Certain things are good with guidelines. UVA guidelines important and critical. We've been waiting for that for long period of time.

"One of the controversies is whether or not to put a cap on sunscreen SPF-sunburn protection factor. The pluses of putting a cap on SPF factor are that marginal protection at higher SPF levels are not that much. But the minuses are that it discourages companies from making better sunscreen."


Dr. Alan Fleischer

Professor and Chair of Dermatology

Wake Forest University School of Medicine

"This is a real move forward for sunscreen product labeling, catching us up to where products are in rest of world -- specifically with regard to UVA labeling, which is absolutely necessary.

"This is a very strong statement from the FDA, and high time to see statement regarding skin cancer, aging and other problems associated with the sun."


Dr. April W. Armstrong

Department of Dermatology

Massachusetts General Hospital

Brigham and Women's Hospital

"These changes are long past due. Consumers have the right to know the exact type and degree of sun protection they get when they buy sunscreens. These changes allow consumers to have a better understanding of the degree of sun protection they will get, if they use their sunscreens properly.

"The latest changes in the FDA labeling of sunscreens not only reflect a concerted effort for recognizing and developing sunscreens with greater protection; they also will have send a powerful public health message to the general public regarding the importance of sun protection.

"I tell my patients that it's not an issue of being a hermit and not going out into the sun, it's about how to be smart about sun protection while you are in the sun. It would be impractical to tell most people to stay away from the sun. It's about how to enjoy the sun wisely, with protection, so that people will not have to spend time during their golden years having skin cancers removed."