1978: "Annie Hall" won best picture, Sony's Walkman was born, and the FDA began developing regulations for sunscreens. Over 30 years later, the Food and Drug Administration still hasn't issued it's final guidelines and regulations.
Why does it matter? Because without FDA regulations, manufacturers of sun protection products aren't as accountable for what they claim their products can do. In many cases claims like "waterproof" or even "SPF 75" are not required to be proven to legally appear on product labels.
According to an article in the Washington Post, "since the [FDA] began working on the regulations in 1978, the FDA has received two requests from seven U.S. senators, a petition from one state attorney general and a congressional mandate to finish the job." The FDA did issue sunscreen regulations in 1999, but they never took effect, since some organizations like the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association had concerns about some of the guidelines. Also, the FDA decided not to enforce the 1999 guidelines because they felt the rules may not be comprehensive enough, given that they didn't take into account all types of potentially damaging rays.
The FDA does plan to issue new regulations for sunscreens in October of this year, which will probably take at least a year to be put into effect.
What does this mean for you? As a consumer, it's important to keep in mind that you are ultimately responsible for your safety. Many sunscreen manufacturers DO follow guidelines to ensure their products are effective and safe, so just make sure you are well informed and do some research if you feel you need to. If you have questions about sun protection products, consult your local dermatologist for information and recommendations.