Consumers Stuck With Murky Sunscreen Labels Another Summer : Shots - Health News Consumers who were expecting the Food and Drug Administration's new requirements for sunscreen labels to be implemented this month will have to wait. The agency has given sunscreen manufacturers until December to catch up to the mandate for clearer information on labels.
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Consumers Stuck With Murky Sunscreen Labels Another Summer

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Consumers Stuck With Murky Sunscreen Labels Another Summer

Consumers Stuck With Murky Sunscreen Labels Another Summer

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

It is definitely Monday, which is when we look at Your Health. And today we're exploring coconut water and sunscreen, just in time for the official start of summer in a couple of days. We start with a government plan to help you pick the right sunscreen. A plan that has been delayed. NPR's Rob Stein reports.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Anyone who's gone to the drugstore knows that the labels on sunscreens can be confusing. SPF this and SPF that, sun block versus sunscreen. Waterproof versus water resistant. Well, after many delays, last year, the federal government finally announced - enough.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: FDA is changing the labeling on sunscreens to make it easier for everyone to protect themselves from the harmful rays of the sun.

STEIN: Many sunscreens didn't fully protect against skin cancer. So the FDA decided that only sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB rays could be called broad spectrum, which means they really work. Sunscreens that don't have an SPF of at least 15 would have to have big warning labels.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Only sunscreens with broad spectrum and an SPF of at least 15 will protect from the sun's full range of light.

STEIN: The FDA is also banning the use of meaningless terms like sun block, water proof and sweat proof. This was all supposed to happen this month. But just as the summer was about to start, the FDA announced - not so fast. So I asked to talk to someone at FDA about why? What happened?

REYNOLD TAN: My name is Reynold Tan. I'm an interdisciplinary scientist in the office of new drugs, FDA.

STEIN: Wait, did he say Reynold Tan?

TAN: Last name is Tan, T-A-N, ironically, same as sun tan Tan.

STEIN: Apparently, he gets this all the time.

TAN: After we published all these requirements we received data showing that manufacturers wouldn't be able to fully implement all the requirements until December of this year for most products.

STEIN: The companies that make sunscreens said they just couldn't get it done in time. Farah Ahmed represents the industry.

FARAH AHMED: It's not a simple re-design of the label. Here we're talking about a huge number of products. Companies would need to order new components. They would need to, perhaps, get new molds. So that requires a re-engineering of manufacturing equipment.

STEIN: Ahmed says there would have been a shortage of sunscreen this summer if the deadline hadn't been extended. But critics, like Nita Lowey - she's a Democratic congresswoman from New York - say times up - way up.

REPRESENTATIVE NITA LOWEY: The industry has had a long enough time to change those labels so they reflect the facts. The foot-dragging will allow yet another summer to go by without consumers having adequate information to protect themselves and their family.

STEIN: The American Cancer Society says the delay is more than just frustrating. Len Lichtenfeld says it's putting lives at risk.

LEN LICHTENFELD: We have, in a sense, an epidemic of skin cancer in this country. We're now seeing over two million cases of skin cancer. We're also seeing a rise in melanomas. And melanoma is a very serious form of skin cancer. And we're seeing that rise in young people, particularly in young women.

STEIN: But for now, consumers will just have to try to do their best. Reynold Tan at the FDA says sunscreens that meet the new guidelines are starting to show up on store shelves. But consumers have to look very carefully to figure that out.

TAN: Make sure that the broad spectrum term appears right next to the SPF number, either directly to the left of it or right on top of it. And it has to be in the same font, meaning it has to be in the same type size, same color, generally the same appearance as the SPF number.

STEIN: Got that? Look for broad spectrum and an SPF of 15 or more, right next it. And, if you can't find one, remember: You shouldn't be relying just on sunscreens anyway. Here's the best advice: Cover up with a hat, long sleeves, pants and hang out more in the shade. That works way better than any sunscreen any day.

Rob Stein, NPR News.

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