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Revised sunscreen labels should help consumers make wiser choices

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MONDAY, May 20 (HealthDay News) -- Dermatologists are saying that new federally mandated labeling laws for sunscreens should help Americans make smarter choices when it comes to products that provide the best sun protection.

The new labels required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must provide information about whether a sunscreen will protect against skin cancer in addition to sunburn, and will also have to indicate whether a sunscreen is water-resistant, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

All sunscreens that don't meet the new FDA testing requirements have to have warning labels that outline their sun-protective limitations.

A new survey of 1,400 sunscreen products by the Environmental Working Group found that most products meet the new FDA requirements. Still, one in seven products reviewed by the watchdog group claimed a sun protection factor, or SPF, rating higher than 50 -- a claim viewed with skepticism by many dermatologists. SPF numbers like 100 or 150 can give people a false sense of security, prompting them to stay in the sun long after a product's sun-protecting properties have worn off, the Associated Press reported.

"The high SPF numbers are just a gimmick," Marianne Berwick, professor of epidemiology at the University of New Mexico, told the AP. "Most people really don't need more than an SPF 30 and they should reapply it every couple of hours."

Discussing the new FDA labeling requirements, dermatologist Dr. Zoe Draelos, a consulting professor at the Duke University School of Medicine, said, "Sunscreen has always been an important tool in the fight against skin cancer, and these new regulations will greatly improve the consumer's ability to make smart decisions -- at a glance -- about a product's effectiveness simply by reading the label.

"Everyone, regardless of skin color, can get skin cancer, which is why it is important for people to properly protect themselves from the sun's harmful rays," Draelos said in an American Academy of Dermatology news release.

To reduce your risk of skin cancer and early aging, the academy recommends using a sunscreen with the following features listed on the label:

- Broad spectrum, which means the sunscreen protects against UVB and UVA rays.

- A sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. SPF 15 is the FDA's minimum recommendation for protection, but the academy recommends an SPF of at least 30.

- Water-resistant for up to either 40 or 80 minutes. This means the sunscreen provides protection while swimming or sweating for the length of time listed on the label.

Sunscreen makers are no longer allowed to claim that a sunscreen is "waterproof" or "sweatproof" because the FDA has determined that those terms are misleading.

In addition to sunscreen, the academy recommends wearing sun-protective clothing, seeking shade and avoiding tanning beds.

At current rates, one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about sunscreen.

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