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All about FDA Sunscreen Testing

Even though winter is fast approaching, wearing sunscreen daily is still one of the best ways to protect your skin from photodamage. The FDA has strict regulations for sunscreens, and understanding the test procedures can be a good idea when learning how best to protect your skin.

What testing is required?

All sunscreens must go through SPF Testing, which essentially measures how much UV exposure will cause a sunburn when the sunscreen is in place, versus when it has not been applied. Importantly, these tests only account for UVB protection. This means that the SPF number only applies to UVB rays.

In order to test for protection against the UVA and UVB ray exposure that accompanies time in the sun, broad-spectrum testing was introduced. The broad spectrum labeling on sunscreen means that it provides UVA protection that is proportional to its UVB protection, and may be indicated by “Broad Spectrum SPF [value.]”

What to know about higher SPF ratings

It may seem like the higher the SPF rating, the better protected you are. This is true only up to about 50 SPF, after which point higher ratings provide negligible improvements (even if these sunscreens sometimes have a higher cost!)

As the sun protection factor on sunscreen products increases beyond 50, the benefit derived is actually very minimal. For example, an SPF of 100 actually only blocks out one percent more UVB rays, 99% protection compared to the 98% granted by SPF 50.

The FDA has even considered requiring higher SPF products to be labeled 50+ because the higher ratings can be misleading, and cause people to disregard other sun protective measures and put themselves at risk while thinking they are protected. This was first brought up in 2019, but no decisions have been published about the potential new rules.

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