It certainly took long enough (try 33 years), but the FDA has finally made some decidedly encouraging steps in the sunscreen arena. All too often, it has felt like sunscreen is one of those damned if you do and damned if you don’t  issues. Hopefully, the FDA’s new rulings will force companies to make only top quality sunscreens with safe ingredients that will be sure to protect instead of causing further harm.

Currently, the FDA only requires testing for UVB rays (which is what SPF is based on). But now, in order to be labeled as “broad spectrum,” sunscreens must be tested and deemed effective at protecting against UVB rays (which cause burning) and UVA rays (which cause aging skin). Both UVB and UVA rays cause cancer. Sunscreens that don’t protect against both types of rays and have an SPF of at least 15 will carry the warning label: “This product has been shown only to prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”

At one point, the FDA considered using a 1 – 4 star ranking to rate UVA protection, and an SPF number for UVB protection. However, they have deemed that system confusing, and now require companies to phase out the star system. In addition, the FDA is considering capping SPF labels at 50, since there is no evidence that higher numbers offer more protection.

Terms like “waterproof” and “sweatproof” will not be used anymore, as they are “exaggerations.” I assume that a term such as “water-resistant” would be fair game, as long as the sunscreen lived up to that phrase.

In terms of ingredients, the FDA is re-examining the safety of 17 sunscreen agents that are currently approved. Unfortunately, the FDA has not announced any plans to look into approving popular agents that are used in Europe and Japan. Some of these sun blockers could be even better and more stable than the already safe zinc oxide. I’m thinking tinsorb, in particular, which is an agent I’d love to see the FDA look into (and not drag its heels on).

Regardless, this is a huge step for sunscreen safety and efficacy in America. The new rules go into effect in one year.

In the meantime, here's Truth In Aging's pick for the Five Best sunscreens for safety