published Monday, June 20th, 2011

New adjunct in battle against sun

Most everyone now knows that exposure to the sun can be hazardous to health. There’s been a lot of confusion, though, about how best to deal with the issue. The government hasn’t been really helpful in the past. That’s about to change.

A new labeling program for sunscreens should make it easier for consumers to select products that provide the best protection against the rays that cause sunburn and the rays that contribute to cancer and to premature aging. The change is welcome, though why it took so long for the government to adopt regulations similar to those that have been in place elsewhere for years — in Europe, for example — is a legitimate question.

The need for better and more informative labeling is evident. Despite the almost religious application of sunscreen and similar products by most Americans in recent years, rates for skin cancers have continued to rise. Of special concern is the fact that the number of young people with skin cancers continues to grow — even though most parents nowadays carefully cover their kids with sunscreen from head to toe to prevent overexposure.

Truth is, current labels don’t provide enough information, or the right kind of data. And some products don’t contain ingredients necessary to protect skin from the most damaging of the sun’s rays. The new rules require sunscreens to provide protection against the kind of ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn and those that can penetrate deep into the skin to cause long-term damage — cancer, including the extremely dangerous melanomas, and the drying that leads to premature aging. Those that do will be labeled “broad spectrum.” Those that don’t will be required to carry a label that indicates the product prevents sunburn only.

Other changes concern SPF labeling and the prohibition of “waterproof,” “sweat-proof” and other phrases that might suggest an effectiveness not conferred by the product. The changes are welcome in this part of the country, where recreation and work habits can put individuals at high risk for sun-related problems with their skin.

Improved labeling, however, will do little good if people don’t use the information provided wisely and if they fail to apply sunscreens often enough and heavily enough to be effective.

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