American regulators are coming down strongly on sunscreen manufacturers. According to them, the labels on such products should spell out precisely how well they protect against sun damage. In addition manufacturers should conduct new tests for a subtler type of ultraviolet radiation that can cause cancer.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has proposed testing and rating the level of protection in over-the-counter sunscreens against ultraviolet "A", too.
Ultraviolet or UV rays from the sun are touted as the major cause of skin cancer, which is incidentally the most common cancer in the United States.
According to experts, there are two types of UV rays: UVA rays are responsible for tanning, and UVB rays cause burning. The FDA wants to consumers to understand that both types are equally dangerous.
Currently, sunscreen manufacturers indicate the level of ultraviolet "B" protection in products by "sun protection factor" or SPF ratings.
Richard Wiles, executive director of the consumer-oriented Environmental Working Group points to an FDA proposal in 1999 which encountered industry opposition and was never put into effect.
As it stands, if a product provides minimal UVA protection, makers can claim it, he says. He adds that the new rule would "change things dramatically from the consumer end."
A new warning in bold type on product labels would serve to warn consumers that using sunscreen should not be a reason for extending time in the sun. Also, the truth that "UV exposure from the sun increases the risk of skin cancer, premature skin aging, and other skin damage", would reach out to many, says Wiles.
In the new UVA rating system, a scale of one to four stars, with four representing the highest UVA protection available in an over-the-counter sunscreen, would be used.
According to the FDA, arriving at labeling pertaining to UVA was more complicated and challenging than with UVB because of a lack of international standards and a many testing options.
Now, 90 days remain, before which the public and manufacturers have to comment on the proposal.
Giant sunscreen manufacturers include Johnson & Johnson, Playtex Products Inc and Schering-Plough. All three companies informed that they were reviewing the FDA proposal.