'Big Sunscreen' wins delay in new FDA rules

Stricter regulations on what sunscreen packaging can say were supposed to go into effect today, just in time for summer. But a delay sought by the industry means they won't happen until the winter.

Jeremy Hobson: Today some new federal rules for sunscreen products are supposed to take effect. The key words there are supposed to. Turns out, the sunscreen makers won't have to comply until the sunny month of... December.

Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports.


John Dimsdale: The FDA regulations set new standards for everything from skin cancer protection claims to whether sunscreens are sweatproof. The FDA has been considering them since 2007.

One of the agency’s experts on sunscreens is Dr. Reynold -- wait for it -- Tan. Exactly a year ago, the industry was given today’s deadline to change their labels. But sunscreen makers balked. They successfully argued that a year wasn’t long enough to redesign their packaging.

The lobbying worked. Dr. Tan says the FDA allowed a six-month extension because the agency feared there could be sunscreen shortages this summer.

Tan: For example, a manufacturer might anticipate not being able to comply with all the requirements, so he may decide not to market his product and decreased availability of sunscreen products, that’s not in the interest of public health. 

You might be surprised to learn the sunscreen lobby casts such a large shadow in Washington. But it's not really thanks to Big Sunscreen. Most sunscreen makers are huge cosmetics and pharmaceutical corporations, like Johnson & Johnson, Merck and L’Oreal. They have plenty of other issues to promote in Washington. The industry’s two trade associations report spending nearly $6 million on lobbying over the past three years.

The chair of the Personal Care Product Council’s Sunscreen Task Force is Farah Ahmed. She says the FDA’s new labeling regulations require a lot more space and might mean fold out or wrap around labels on their products.

Farah Ahmed: But you know when we’re talking about a lipstick, that is still very difficult to do.

The sunscreen lobbying won’t end here. Next up are safety guidelines for super-small nano-sized particles in cosmetics, says Michael Hansen of Consumer Reports.

Michael Hansen: A lot of people have been asking that there should be required safety testing before these products come on the market. But none of that has been done yet. 

Dr. Tan says so far the FDA is not concerned about the small particles. But he says the science is evolving and new regulations may be coming.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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