Canada plans strong sunscreen warnings

Washington, D.C. --The Canadian government has proposed sunscreen rules much stronger than those governing U.S. sunscreens.  

Because numerous companies are major players in both the Canadian and United States markets, if Canada’s planned rules take effect, they could prompt welcome changes in sunscreens sold in the U.S.

“Sunscreen companies won’t make better products until they are forced to,” said Sonya Lunder, Senior Analyst at Environmental Working Group. “EWG welcomes Canada’s efforts to improve sunscreen protection, particularly because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration appears unable or unwilling to wrap up its sunscreen rules more than thirty years in the making.”

Canadian regulators want to require sunscreens with anti-aging ingredients to bear a strong warning label advising consumers that the product could increase sun sensitivity and sunburn for up to a week after they use it.  Among the chemicals in this category is retinyl palmitate, a common form of vitamin A.  Canadian regulators want to warn consumers against retinyl palmitate in concentrations of 0.1 percent and greater in sunscreens.   

EWG’s analysis of U.S. sunscreens has found that retinyl palmitate is listed on nearly one-quarter of product labels.  The concentrations in these products are not known. For the past 5 years, EWG has cautioned consumers to avoid sunscreens with retinyl palmitate and other forms of vitamin A because an FDA-sponsored study found higher rates of skin tumors and lesions in laboratory animals treated with retinyl palmitate and exposed to sunlight. As well, products containing vitamin A can irritate the skin.

High SPF – Canada’s proposal would ban sunscreens with SPFs greater than 50+.  The FDA has made a similar proposal but has not issued a final regulation.  In the absence of rules carrying the force of law, U.S. sunscreen makers have ignored evidence that higher SPF values are misleading and contribute to sunscreen misuse. Instead they market high SPF products.

EWG’s market survey estimates that one in seven of U.S. sunscreens claim SPF values greater than 50+.

Wet skin products – The Canadian proposal would ban sunscreens that claim they can be used effectively on wet or sweaty skin. In the U.S., major companies including Neutrogena, Coppertone, CVS, Rite Aid, and Aveeno, have recently begun to market “Wet Skin” sprays, primarily for children. The FDA has expressed doubts about the safety and effectiveness of sunscreen sprays but has not restricted sales of these products.  About one in four sunscreens in EWG’s 2013 database are sprays.

UVA protection – Canada proposes to adopt FDA’s relatively weak standard for ultraviolet A filtering, commonly known as “broad spectrum” protection. However it would allow sunscreens that meet stronger European Union guidelines to note this on the labels. EWG modeling suggests that half of American sunscreen products are too weak to be sold in Europe.  American consumers have no way of knowing which products that make “broad spectrum” claims provide better protection from harmful UVA rays. Canada’s proposed rules would remedy that -- for Canadians.

EWG has campaigned for seven years for government restrictions on harmful ingredients in sunscreen and for higher standards for skin protection. EWG’s 2013 sunscreen guide gives safety ratings for more than 1,400 sunscreens, moisturizers, lip products and makeup with SPF claims. EWG recommends that consumers avoid retinyl palmitate, SPF values greater than 50+, sunscreen sprays and products offering weak UVA protection.

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