Sunscreen labeling welcome but overdue
The government expects to enforce rules for labeling and testing sunscreens but not until 2009.
HELP is on the way for beachgoers susceptible to skin cancer, but they should not hold their breath. More comprehensive labeling of sunscreen will be required by the Food and Drug Administration, but probably not until 2009 at the earliest -- better late than never.
The FDA announced its aim to require a sunscreen labeling system in 1978, but sun protection factor numbers pertain only to the sun's ultraviolet B, or UVB, radiation, which causes sunburn. However, those rules were not published until 1999. The agency then put them on hold until it could include Ultraviolet A, or UVA, rays, which produce tanning but also cause more serious damage to the skin.
Both types of rays can cause skin cancer, and the FDA has no data that show sunscreen reduces that risk. About 1 million Americans a year are diagnosed with skin cancer, nearly 60,000 with melanoma, the most lethal type.
Under the proposed rules, manufacturers would be required to conduct laboratory and human tests to assess UVA protection and label their products with one to four stars, ranging from low to highest protection. The UVB sun protection factor also would be listed. Companies would have to label their products "No UVA protection" if the UVA testing has not been made.
Public comments will be registered with the agency over the next 90 days, and the rule will take effect 18 months later at the earliest. Until then, people exposed to midday sun would be best advised to wear protective clothing in addition to using sunscreen.
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