Weather Updates

Sunscreen leaves consumers confused

In this Wednesday May 9 2012 phoMorgan Weese left Brittany Locke carry supply sun tanning products their bag as they

In this Wednesday, May 9, 2012 photo, Morgan Weese, left, and Brittany Locke carry a supply of sun tanning products in their bag as they sun bathe in Miami Beach, Fla. Weese said she used to "obsessed" with tanning during high school, but now knows the dangers associated with tanning too much - including skin cancer. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

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Updated: June 29, 2012 9:14AM

Read any good sunscreen labels lately? If so, you may have noticed something: Many still carry the words “waterproof” or “sunblock” — even though the Food and Drug Administration declared years ago that those terms were misleading and promised to ban them by this summer.

That’s not happening: The FDA just announced that it was giving large sunscreen manufacturers an extra six months, until mid-December, to comply with new labeling rules that ban misleading terms and require clearer, more accurate statements about sunburn and skin cancer protection.

The delay rankles the watchdogs at the Environmental Working Group, who put out a sixth annual report on sunscreens — which, as in the past, questions the safety and effectiveness of many of the products and warns consumers not to rely on sunscreens alone to prevent skin cancer. The labeling changes will represent only a “modest” improvement, but the delay is “incredibly frustrating,” says Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the group.

The reason for the delay: Manufacturers were not ready, and a summer shortage could have resulted if they had to stop shipping products with old labels in a few weeks, FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson confirmed in an email.

For now, consumers will find a mix of old and new labels, says Farah Ahmed, who represents sunscreen makers for the Personal Care Products Council. The council, the FDA and many dermatologists say that the products inside the bottles and tubes are safe and that some will lower your risk of skin cancer if you use them correctly, in combination with other strategies.

But which should you buy? And how exactly should you use the stuff? Here’s the best advice right now:

Choose SPF 15 or higher: Products with lower sun-protection factors help prevent sunburn but not wrinkles and skin cancer. New labels will spell that out. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends at least a 30 SPF, partly because most people don’t use enough lotion to get the full protection.

Choose “broad spectrum”: Under the new rules, products labeled “broad spectrum” will have to pass a test to prove they offer enough protection from the sun’s UVB and UVB rays, which work together to damage skin. But the Environmental Working Group found most products now claiming UVA and UVB protection already pass that test (though the group prefers the stronger standards and ingredients used in Europe).

Ignore hype : The term “sunblock” is misleading because no product totally blocks harmful rays. “Waterproof” and “sweatproof” are wrong because all the products wear off. New labels will tell users to reapply “water resistant” sunscreens in 40 or 80 minutes, depending on the formula. Some dermatologists also consider SPFs over 50 to be hype, because the additional protection they provide isn’t significant. FDA is considering banning ultra-high SPFs. “The whole idea is that consumers should not be misled,” says Deborah Sarnoff, a senior vice president at the Skin Cancer Foundation in New York.

Do not rely on sunscreen alone: All the experts, including sunscreen makers, agree that just wearing sunscreen won’t save your skin — especially if you falsely believe it gives you a license to spend extra hours in the sun. Limit time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and cover up with broad-brimmed hats, sunglasses and clothing, says Henry Lim, chief of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. “It has to be a total package.”

Zoe Draelos, a consulting professor of dermatology at Duke University in Durham, N.C., says, “I do think a lot of people get lulled into a false sense of security by just wearing sunscreen.” Draelos, who is vice president of the dermatology academy, also says too many people still like the look of a tan or believe it protects their skin — when it really is a sign that damage has begun.

Sarnoff says her message to would-be sun worshipers is simple: “Don’t work on your tan. Work on protecting your skin from the sun and preventing skin cancer.”

Gannett News Service

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