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Still In the Dark About Sunscreen

I'll be heading off to Ocean City soon. As always, I'll bring plenty of sunscreen, just as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) recommended we all do after he recently had another "spot" removed from his fair skin. (Sen. McCain has had skin cancer four times.)

But I won't be armed with much information about how well that sunscreen protects my skin against the long-term-damage-doing UVA rays the sun emits along with the better-understood, sunburn-causing UVB rays. For decades, sunscreens' SPF ratings have given us a sense of how well the products are likely to ward off UVB damage. But there's no parallel system in place to provide info about UVA protection.

Last summer the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new sunscreen-labeling rules that would, among other things, implement a means of conveying information about a product's efficacy against UVA radiation. The agency then opened the matter to public comment, inviting manufacturers and other interested parties to have their say about the proposal. A year later, it seems we're not much closer to getting new, more broadly informative sunscreen labels than we were then.

Of course, complying with new labeling regulations -- which would require extensive testing of products and reworking packages -- will be a major pain in the neck for sunscreen manufacturers. But so what? That's their job.

On Friday Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced legislation that would require the FDA to adopt new sunscreen labeling rules within three months of the bill's enactment. If the agency were to fail to comply, the bill calls for adoption of the proposed rules, just as they're written.

Even if we see those new rules in 180 days, it will take years for manufacturers to bring all their products into compliance.

So, maybe by the time I actually can afford to buy a place in O.C., I'll have all the information about my sunscreen that I need.

Do you use sunscreen? Do you pay much attention to the SPF information on the label? And even if you do, do you still feel left in the dark about the UVA side of sun protection?

UPDATE: Starting at noon tomorrow, we'll be turning off comments on this blog for about 24 hours to allow for some sorely needed software upgrades and other maintenance.

The Checkup welcomes and values your comments; we look forward to reading them again once the upgrade is complete.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  August 4, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health  
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