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Home :: Professional / Government Regulation / Product Fact Sheets / Suntan and Sunscreen Products

U. S. Food and Drug Administration
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Office of Cosmetics Fact Sheet
February 7, 1995


Your first line of defense against the sun should be a sunscreen. FDA regulates sunscreens as over-the-counter drugs. To help consumers select products that best suit their needs, FDA has proposed the use of SPF numbers. SPF stands for "sun protection factor". The higher the SPF number, the more protection the product will give.

When at the beach or pool, cover exposed areas with opaque clothing and wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your head and face. Try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the rays are strongest, and reapply sunscreen often, especially after you swim or sweat. If you're a parent, protect your children's skin; Research indicates that one or more severe, blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence can double the risk of melanoma (a type of skin cancer) later in life.

People most susceptible to skin cancer are those with light-colored skin and eyes and a Northern European background. However, everyone should use a sunscreen when exposed to the sun for a long period of time. The amount of sunlight a person can safely tolerate depends largely on the thickness of the skin and to a lesser degree on the amount of melanin in the skin.

Skin damage from sunlight builds up with continued exposure, whether sunburn occurs or not. Effects can include wrinkling, premature aging, and in time, an almost leathery appearance of the skin.

The agency is concerned about the health hazards associated with suntanning products that do not contain sunscreen ingredients. FDA has proposed that such suntanning products carry the following statement: "Warning--this product does not contain a sunscreen and does not protect against sunburn."

In recent years, "suntan accelerators" have appeared on the market. Manufacturers claim that these products enhance tanning by stimulating and increasing melanin formation. FDA recently concluded that these "suntan accelerators" are actually unapproved drugs, and the agency has issued warning letters to several manufacturers of these products.

For additional information on the risks associated with tanning, consult the 1989 FDA Consumer magazine article: Healthy Tan: A Fast Fading Myth.

U. S. Food and Drug Administration
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

Information about Suntan Products, Sunscreens, and Tanning

Information from the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and FDA

Information from Other Federal Government Agencies

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