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Sunscreen makers a shade too late

I was all ready to hit the garden in my favorite sleeveless T – armed with the best info on how to keep my neon-white skin safe from the sun. But wait! What happened to those new sunscreen warning labels I’ve been hearing about for the past year? 

Turns out that the sunscreen labeling rules that were supposed to take effect this summer now won’t happen until December.

When it’s snowing. 

So what does that mean for consumers?  Here’s the thing. The guidelines for American-made sunscreens are so 1978. Yes, that’s the last time they were set. So we think we are protecting our skin from the rays that cause harm, there is really no way to tell.  The FDA has been working on getting the information updated since 2007.  Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal told the New York Times recently that this delay has been because of the “power and special-interest sway of sunscreen manufacturers.” Who knew that the largest sunscreen manufacturers hold a special-interest sway? Now along with Big Oil, we’ve got Big Sunscreen?

The label changes were supposed to be updated and on store shelves by June, to clear up confusion surrounding how much protection a we need—and what we’re actually getting—from sunscreen. But manufacturers begged for more time, saying that, even though they’ve had a year to comply, there wasn’t enough time to create new labels and get them on the shelf. So the Food and Drug Administration bowed to the industry request for more time.

It would have been great to have those labels available during these summer months when we actually need them. We were finally going to able to distinguish which brands protected against both sunburn-causing ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and the deeper-penetrating ultraviolet A (UVA) rays linked to skin cancer and premature aging.

The other change that was supposed to take effect was misleading “all-day protection” and the waterproof/sweatproof claims. The new labels would have been revised to say water- or sweat-resistant, and would have let you know the time limit of when your protection runs out while swimming or sweating. Bottom line is that at least for now you’ll need to take a good guess as to how often you should re-apply. 

The FDA did say that companies could go ahead and put the new relabeled bottles on store shelves as soon as they’re ready, meaning you could start seeing revised labels sooner than December.

Here’s what you should look for in a sunscreen this summer:  

  • Protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Check the ingredient list for zinc, titanium, avobenzone or ecamsule..
  • Sunscreens with a 30 SPF or higher to help prevent skin cancer and early skin aging.
  • A label that tells you how long sunscreens are water-resistant, and when to re-apply.

Even if you apply liberally without missing spots, it’s still best to avoid direct sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. or to cover up.