In addition to sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection, people should wear protective clothing and limit their sun exposure to avoid skin damage.
The Food and Drug Administration proposed sweeping new rules for sunscreens yesterday to give consumers more detailed information about the level of protection they provide against sun damage.
In 1978, the agency instituted the current sunscreen labeling system, using an SPF, or sun protection factor, number. That number rates protection against burns from the sun’s shorter-wave ultraviolet B rays, known as UVB radiation. But for the first time, the agency is proposing that manufacturers be required to test and label sunscreens for protection against the more deeply penetrating rays, called UVA radiation, which can cause wrinkles and sunspots. Exposure to either kind of radiation can cause skin cancer.
“The bottom line is this is terrific news for consumers,” said Dr. James M. Spencer, a dermatologist in St. Petersburg, Fla., specializing in skin cancer. “Now when you go to the drugstore and buy sunscreen, you will finally know what you are getting.”
The new rules come in the wake of criticism this summer from politicians and health activists, who said that outdated labeling gave consumers a false sense of security. Some sunscreens already contain UVA-protective ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. But manufacturers would now be required to conduct specific laboratory and human tests to assess UVA protection, and each product would be labeled with one to four stars, indicating low to high UVA protection. The proposed rules also change the rating system, to add descriptions like low, medium and high to the SPF. The new labels would also require manufactures to warn that, in addition to sunscreen, people should wear protective clothing and limit their sun exposure to avoid skin damage.
But consumers should not expect improved sunscreen labels for at least 15 months. Rita Chappelle, a spokeswoman for the F.D.A., said there would be a 90-day comment period, after which the agency could amend the rules. If the new rules are enacted, manufacturers would have a year to comply, Ms. Chappelle said. In 1999, the agency proposed new rules for prohibiting claims like “all day protection” and “waterproof” that could be misleading. But the rules were stayed after manufacturers objected.
Information provided by:
Karen L. Power, MPH
Nevada Cancer Institute