Sunscreen Labels to Get a Makeover

By Mari Payton
|  Wednesday, Jun 15, 2011  |  Updated 7:48 AM PDT
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Sunscreen Labels to Get a Makeover

It's more than just stopping a sunburn: two million Americans get treated for skin cancer each year -- and people die from melanoma at the rate of one death per hour.

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It's a confusing decision, buying waterproof, sweat proof, SPF 8 or 80. That's why for the first time in more than 30 years the FDA is making changes when it comes to labeling requirements.

The idea is to simplify the labels so consumers can make better decisions on what kind to buy.

It's more than just stopping sunburn -- two million Americans get treated for skin cancer each year and people die from melanoma at the rate of one death per hour.

"SPF was interpreted by a lot of people as sun protective factor, I am OK, I have the 150 million on me right now and I am OK," explains Greg Daniels, M.D., an oncologist with UC San Diego School of Medicine.   

Soon, the FDA will require all sunscreens sold in the U.S. to be categorized according to how they protect against UVA and UVB rays - the harmful ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer and wrinkles. Those sunscreens will be labeled "Broad Spectrum" and only those with an SPF of 15 or higher will be able to have that label.

Another change? A drug facts label listing ingredients and differentiating between products that protect against cancer from those that only prevent sunburn.

"We've heard from many surveys that we've done that this really helps people access information, so we're adding a drug facts box just like is found on other OTC Drugs," said the FDA's Dr. Janet Woodcock.

The FDA will make sure companies eliminate the words waterproof or sweat proof, saying no product can accurately make that claim.
 
They'll also limit the maximum SPF to 50 since there's not enough data to suggest anything above offers better protection.

Still, experts agree when it comes to cancer: early detection is key.

"Yes, we talk about sunscreen, but it's really recognizing those changes in the skin that are dangerous that may indicate that melanoma is developing and seeing a provider if you have a concern," Daniels said.

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