Comparison of Ultraviolet A light Protection Standards in the United States and European Union Through In Vitro Measurements of Commercially Available Sunscreens


A 2017 article from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (vol 77, no 1, p.42) testing SPF claims and results from US and European commercially available and popular sunscreens. The authors conclude that not only can FDA approved US products not provide the same level of protection despite being labeled with the same SPF, but that also European approved sunscreen active ingredients outperformed a number of their US counterparts.

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Current photoprotection strategies include sun avoidance, wearing protective clothing, and sunscreen application. In the United States and Europe, the application of sunscreen is the most common photoprotective behavior practiced by the public.

Twenty sunscreen products were selected because of their sales volume, SPF values, and accessibility. All products tested were labeled as broad-spectrum in addition to their SPF value. All the sunscreens were purchased at a brick and mortar CVS store in San Francisco, California, and WinstonSalem, North Carolina. The products were packaged and labeled only by code numbers before analysis.

The SPF value and broad-spectrum status are 2 critical elements that influence consumers when choosing sunscreen products. Our study found that within each SPF category there can be a wide range of CW measurements for the tested products. Not all sunscreens with the broad-spectrum label will offer the same degree of UVA protection. The absorbance spectra of 2 SPF 50 products that met US standards for CW show that the products do not confer the same level of UVA protection. As a result, US consumers cannot readily discern the degree of UVA coverage offered by 2 sunscreens of the same SPF and broad-spectrum label...

The FDA’s 2011 ruling provided the groundwork to ensure there is a standard for measuring UVA protection, but it appears this standard may be less stringent than the criteria set by the European Union. To match the same level of UVA protection, the FDA can raise the CW requirement depending on the SPF of the product. Finally, sunscreen manufacturers in the US need access to new UVA filters, new combinations of UVA filters, and higher permissible levels of UVA filters to produce sunscreens with better UVA protection.

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