Sunscreen: Don't Get Burned

Michelle Miller is a CBS News correspondent based in New York.
Can you believe what you read?

Sunscreen labels promise a lot: Waterproof, Surfer proof, Broadspectrum, All Day Protection.

But do they deliver?

This month, the Food and Drug Administration may set NEW rules, rules governing how sunscreen makers market their products.

But the agency has promised regulation before. Ten years ago, Congress ordered the FDA to upgrade standards with an 18 month timeline.

It didn't deliver.

It's been 30 years since the FDA recommended sunscreen use. Back then, the lion's share of research looked at Ultraviolet B rays, the rays that burn. Those refer to the Sun Protection Factor or SPF.

Three decades later, more is known about Ultra Violet A rays, the rays that penetrate deeper and mostly age the skin.

We now know that BOTH may cause skin cancer.

Still the FDA hasn't weighed in on the matter.

That riles Richard Wiles, Executive Director of the Environmental Working Group.

He says, "Many of the claims that manufacturers make about their product simply aren't true."

Connecticut's Attorney General is leading another charge, calling on Congress to step up its efforts to force the FDA to move. He says the agency "has been AWOL. Asleep at the switch. It has failed to implement rules that literally could save lives."

Both suggest that the sunscreen industry has a powerful lobby that has effectively stalled the FDA.

One notable former lobbyist: John Roberts, now the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

But the sunscreen industry stands by its products. Elizabeth Anderson of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association says the industry's data backs up UVA protection claims.

Even if the FDA rules on new guidelines, they won't go into effect for another two years.

To protect themselves from UVA rays, consumers should look for specific ingredients inside the bottle, specifically PARSOL 1789, ZINC OXIDE, AND TITANIUM DIOXIDE.

And doctors say layer on the sunscreen thick and often -- enough to cover your body from head to toe -- and reapply every 60 to 90 minutes.

Doctors say sunscreen only works when its ON the body. It CAN sweat off. It CAN wash off. And it WON'T last all day.