Labeling Laws for Personal Care Products: Potential Pitfalls for the Consumer

Evelyne Tantry; Ariadna Perez-Sanchez, MD; Shelly Fu; Shravya Potula; Rajani Katta, MD


Skin Therapy Letter. 2021;26(5):1-6. 

In This Article


Sunscreen labels are also a common source of confusion among consumers, including the sun protection factor (SPF) value. The SPF is defined as the ratio of the amount of ultraviolet (UV) energy required to produce erythema on skin protected by sunscreen, to the amount of energy required to produce erythema on unprotected skin. Contrary to popular belief, an increased magnitude of SPF value above SPF 30 offers minimal increase of protection from UV rays. Specifically, SPF 30 shields the skin from 97% of UV rays and SPF 50 shields 98%.[10]

Importantly, SPF values only specify protection against UVB radiation, responsible for sunburns.[11] The SPF value does not provide information on protection from UVA rays, which damage the deeper layers of the skin and contribute to skin cancer.[12]

Marketing claims on sunscreens are also of significant concern.[13] Many commonly used claims are neither approved nor regulated by the FDA, including claims such as "dermatologist recommended."[13] Unregulated claims are rampant among sunscreens and advertisements, and sunscreens with more than six of these claims have been associated with increased popularity among consumers.[13]

Another area of concern relates to GRASE products (generally recognized as safe and effective). While GRASE ingredients are regulated by the FDA, some sunscreens are sold in the form of products that are not considered GRASE, including powders, wipes, towelettes, and insect repellants.[26] These product forms have not been extensively studied for their safety and sun protection efficacy.[26]