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American sunscreen options are limited compared to other countries. Here's why.

Concerns over the effectiveness of U.S. sunscreens
1930s law keeping foreign sunscreen that may be more effective off U.S. shelves 02:08

You may be ready for the start of summer, but is your sunscreen

Compared with other parts of the world, American sunscreen selections are limited due to a law from nearly a century ago that may be blocking the best lotions from your beach bag, CBS News's Manuel Bojorquez reported for "Evening News."

The 1938 U.S. law classifies sunscreen as a drug and requires animal testing rather than as a cosmetic like parts of Europe and Asia do — this keeps foreign brands off U.S. shelves and limits sunscreen makers. 

On average, U.S. sunscreens don't protect as well from skin-cancer-causing UVA rays, according to the Environmental Working Group. One of the group's studies found only 35% of the U.S. sunscreens tested are strong enough to meet EU standards. 

Why does this matter? Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the country — but also one of the most preventable.

"Almost everybody has been affected by skin cancer. One in five Americans have skin cancer," said Dr. Robert Kirsner, a dermatologist with the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami. "We'd really like to get some of those European sunscreens to the United States, because it'll give us greater opportunity, greater options for our patients."

In a statement to CBS News, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it "must balance the public health benefits of access to a broader range of sunscreen active ingredients against the importance of ensuring that the sunscreens Americans use are safe for regular lifelong use."

Regardless of what's available now, experts say the important thing is to use what you have.

Kirschner said the sunscreens currently allowed in the United States are still considered safe and effective as long as they are used properly.

The American Cancer Society recommends using a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. You should be wearing this level of sunscreen every day, even on cloudy days, according to the American Academy of Dermatology

"Apply enough sunscreen to cover all skin not covered by clothing. Most adults need about 1 ounce — or enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their body," according to the American Academy of Dermatology's website, which notes not to forget the tops of your feet, neck, ears and head. "When outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating."

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