When you see an SPF number on a sunscreen bottle, you probably think you can trust it to protect your skin. But in Consumer Reports’ independent lab tests, developed to provide the best comparative consumer ratings, many sunscreens didn't meet the sun protection factor claim on their label. Based on these findings, Consumer Reports has submitted its test results to the Food and Drug Administration and asked the agency to step up its current review process for sunscreens to help ensure that consumers are getting the protection they think they’re buying. The FDA responded to Consumer Reports by asking for more information on our tests.

Yesterday the issue of SPF performance heated up when Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) called on the FDA to launch a “full-on investigation of deceptive SPF marketing,” citing Consumer Reports' latest testing. “There is simply no doubt about it—some consumers are being totally burned when they buy sunscreen, which is why the FDA must give sunscreen labels the third degree,” Schumer said.

How the FDA Regulates Sunscreen

The FDA requires sunscreen manufacturers to test their products to back up their SPF claims as well as test for broad-spectrum protection if a broad-spectrum claim appears on the label. But the FDA does not verify the testing, require manufacturers to report the results, or do pre-market testing itself. And manufacturershave to test only new products or reformulations of older products, not every batch of a sunscreen they produce.

If the agency suspects a problem, it can ask a manufacturer for the results of its testing, right now, sunscreen manufacturers are too often policing themselves. In Schumer’s announcement, he asked the FDA to instead test sunscreens and confirm true SPF numbers.

Schumer also urged the FDA to finalize the rules in the 2014 Sunscreen Innovation Act, which sets a timetable for the FDA to review new sunscreen ingredients. Many UV-shielding ingredients that have long been used in sunscreens in other countries are not available in the U.S. Eight ingredients were up for review, and the FDA has asked the manufacturers of all of them for more data.  

Call for More Funding

The agency has noted that the Sunscreen Innovation Act did not provide additional resources for them to increase their sunscreen oversight, nor did it change the FDA’s standards for reviewing ingredients’ safety and effectiveness. In a May 2016 report to Senate and Congressional committees responsible for overseeing the Act, the agency said that its “ability to review its regulatory responsibility . . . is at serious risk without a substantial increase in resources.”

Consumer Reports applauds Schumer's efforts to get the FDA to take strong action, and encourages Congress to work to get the FDA the resources it may need to better oversee SPF claims and other issues involving sunscreen safety and effectiveness.