FDA proposes sunscreen labeling update

October 1, 2007

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At the same time, within the past several months, news studies have come out with some conflicting information about sunscreens and skin cancer. Stories that people need sun to avoid vitamin D deficiency continue to make the news. A recent Journal of Nutrition cites a large study out of France that indicates women taking anti-oxidant supplements showed a 68 percent higher incidence of skin cancer than those taking a placebo. And a Centers for Disease Control report in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (June 1, 2007 / 56(21);524-528) indicates that between 1999 and 2004, the prevalence of sunburns among adults in the United States rose 2 percent (31.8 percent to 33.7 percent).

On Call asked dermatologists about whether those types of reports influence their patients' attitudes toward the use of sunscreens.

"There are a lot of people who believe that many melanomas are developing because early sunscreens were not filtering UVA rays.

"The new labels should help because, although sunscreens might list UVA protecting ingredients, most people don't know which ingredients are the 'A' filters. By clarifying how much protection the sunscreen provides against UVA, I think more people will use them," Dr. Harlan tells On Call.

"The new labeling might increase patient awareness more. If they are aware another type of sun damage can occur, they might be more compliant and apt to think twice - and maybe use the sunscreen that offers more protection.

"The proposal they have for labeling UVA seems a little simpler. I find a lot of people are confused by the numbering system and keep asking which sunscreen they should use daily and what they should use at the beach."

"Any time new information comes out, it brings the issue up. You have more people asking educated questions. If it sparks somebody's interest in the short run, it may help educate people in the long run.

"The new labeling system seems to make it easier to understand, although that remains to be seen."

"I 'm not keen that they're going to limit specific SPF labeling to under-50 SPF. Over 50, it will just read 50+.

"If they labeled higher SPFs, it would spur manufacturers to come up with a better and more effective sunscreen. If it's limited to SPF 50+, there's no incentive for companies to come up with better sunscreens."