Group Asks FDA to Investigate Sunscreen SPF Claims

A health group is urging the FDA to investigate whether some ingredients used by sunscreen manufacturers to boost the SPF (sun protection factor) in their products actually do so.

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, the Environmental Working Group questions whether the ingredients actually boost protection from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. They are concerned that the ingredients may be “masking the skin reddening that is the body’s warning sign of sun damage.”

EWG is calling for the FDA to “investigate the use of anti-inflammatories, antioxidants and other ingredients in sunscreen products, which may increase SPF measurements without shielding the body from UV light.” By concealing sunburn without extra UV protection, EWG argues that those ingredients could lull consumers “into a false sense of security and spend more time exposed to harmful UV radiation without reapplying a sun-filtering product.”

EWG notes that over the last 10 years, the number of sunscreens claiming an SPF of 70 or greater has increased dramatically, even though the ingredients available to sunscreen manufacturers has remained the same.

“Something is going on when you see such dramatic increases, whether that’s through the use of additional inactive ingredients or stretching the limits of approved testing methods,” David Andrews, PhD, an EWG senior scientist, said in a statement. “It’s imperative that the FDA overhaul its sunscreen testing and marketing requirements to ensure SPF claims are accurate and consumers get the protection they expect.”

EWG is also calling on the FDA to finalize a rule that would limit the maximum SPF value on sunscreen values to “50+” since having a sunscreen with an SPF higher than 50 doesn’t necessarily mean extra protection.

For tips on what to look for in a good sunscreen, check out MedShadow’s piece on sunscreen do’s and don’ts.


Jonathan Block

Jonathan Block is a freelance writer and former MedShadow content editor. He has been an editor and writer for multiple pharmaceutical, health and medical publications, including BioCentury, The Pink Sheet, Modern Healthcare, Health Plan Week and Psychiatry Advisor. He holds a BA from Tufts University and is earning an MPH with a focus on health policy from the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy.


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