Questions Raised About Sun Protection in Makeup

FDA to require new labels for sunscreen beginning in June

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Dermatologists are raising concerns about cosmetics such as foundation and tinted moisturizers that promise sun protection. (Published Monday, May 14, 2012)

    Dermatologists are raising concerns about cosmetics such as foundation and tinted moisturizers that promise sun protection.

    "It's a little misleading," said Dr. Clay Cockerell, a dermatologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center. "You probably do get some minor protection, but the problem is, with any sunscreen, it really needs to be one that's been tested as a sunscreen, not sunscreen that's been added to another product."

    He said the sun protection factor, or SPF, in most cosmetics only protects against one type of ultraviolet ray.

    "The SPF is actually originally designed for testing for UVB, for sun-burning type of rays," he said. "But that has nothing in there about UVA, so we really don't know how much UVA protection you're getting, if any at all."

    Cockerell said UVA rays can cause skin cancer and early aging. He tells patients to use a sunscreen that protects against both, what the Food and Drug Administration calls "broad spectrum."

    But Farah Ahmed, chair of the Personal Care Products Council Sunscreen task force, told NBC 5 that cosmetics offering SPF protection "are enough protection" for most consumers.

    "The statement -- makeups that boast sunscreens do not properly protect skin from the sun -- is inaccurate," Ahmed said. "It suggests that the sunscreen contained in makeups are somehow different, or less effective than the traditional/beach sunscreens. This is clearly incorrect."

    "Consumers should have confidence in their sunscreens whether it be in a lotion, lipstick, spray, foundation, powder, etc. form," Ahmed said.

    The FDA is requiring a new testing system and clearer labeling to explain the SPF numbers in sunscreens, including cosmetics, beginning June 18.

    "The FDA has finally said, 'We need to make sure that the message out there is clear. That people understand what they're getting when it says quote SPF and just putting on a cosmetic of SPF 15,'" Cokerell said.

    "That's more of a marketing thing," he said. "It's not really giving you significant protection."

    The FDA's website shows the new sunscreen labels and the words people should look for -- the words "broad spectrum" and "SPF" followed by a number that is 15 or higher. A mock-up of such a bottle is shown below.

    FDA mock-up of broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 15

    However, labels such as those shown below do not protect against skin cancer and early skin-aging. The one on the left says "broad spectrum," but its SPF number is less than 15. And the one on the right doesn't say "broad spectrum" even though its SPF is 30.

    FDA mock-up of suncreen that, left, has an SPF of less than 15 and suncreen that is not broad spectrum

    To make it even clearer, products such as those in the FDA mock-up bottles shown above carry warnings that read: "This product has been shown only to prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging."

    Elizabeth Ray, 28, said she is thrilled about the new required labels.

    "That's what we trust the FDA to do," she said. "They're supposed to keep us informed about what's good for us and what's not and what product does what it says."

    Ray's doctor found a melanoma on her forearm five years ago.

    "I won't step outside without having a SPF on every exposed part of my body," she said.

    Ray is five years cancer-free and said she is not taking any chances.

    Dermatologists say people should look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. People should apply about a small shot glass full on all exposed skin 15 minutes before going outside. Most say to reapply every two hours.

    More: See the larger versions of the FDA mock-ups