Are Americans Getting Burned By Sunscreen?

When it comes to her daughters, Christine Gugliotta wants maximum protection and trusts it's in there.

"If they put it on that label and I'm paying extra for it, that's what I better be getting," she says.

Sunscreen labels make a lot of claims — waterproof, broad-spectrum and all-day protection. But do they deliver?

"Many of the claims that manufacturers make about their products are simply not true," says Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group.

For years, the group has criticized the Food and Drug Administration for not doing a better job regulating the sunscreen industry.

"The industry is running wild," says Wiles.

The FDA set guidelines for the SPF number, or Sun Protection Factor, 30 years ago.

SPF refers only to UVB protection — ultraviolet rays that burn. There are no standards for measuring how well a sunscreen blocks equally dangerous UVA rays — those that penetrate deeper and age the skin. Both can cause skin cancer.

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Congress has demanded regulations on UVA from the FDA ever since. That hasn't happened, and the agency isn't talking.

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Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal contends that the FDA is too influenced by the sunscreen industry.

"The FDA has been AWOL, asleep at the switch," says Blumenthal. "It has failed to implement rules that literally could save lives."

The sunscreen industry stands behind its research and its claims.

"When a product is labeled UVA/UVB broad-spectrum, what does that mean?" asks CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller.

"That means they've conducted the SPF test and they have data to protect the UVA efficacy of the product," says Elizabeth Anderson of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association.

For now, consumers are on their own to understand the labels. For protection against UVA rays, look for Parsol 1789, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in the ingredients.

Until the government clears up the confusion, consumers should cover themselves and not believe everything they read.
  • Michelle Singer

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