AS the noon sun began to cook bathers in Long Beach, N.Y., last Sunday, members of the Sofferman family lounged on towels, each wearing a sun lotion chosen with the care usually given to picking out a new bathing suit.
Denise Sofferman and Ilene Sofferman, sisters who both work in the apparel industry in Manhattan, had put on tanning oil, their bodies already golden brown. Denise’s daughter, Lauren Levy, 21, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, had protected her pale skin with a heavy-duty S.P.F. 50 product formulated for children. Ilene’s 9-year-old daughter, Alison, had received a head-to-toe coating of S.P.F. 30.
Two hours later, the daughters were sunburned, their backs as pink as watermelon.
“It says waterproof, but Lauren didn’t even go swimming,” said Denise Sofferman, reapplying sunscreen to her daughter.
Ilene Sofferman, smearing another coat of lotion on Alison’s pink face, read from the back of the sunscreen bottle. “They have all these different marketing terms —S.P.F., UVA, UVB, waterproof, sweat-resistant — but you have to figure out what they mean by trial and error,” she said.
After decades of warnings about the dangers of sun exposure, an increasing number of Americans are making sunscreen part of their skin-care routines. Americans bought 60 million units of sunscreen last year, a 13 percent increase compared with 2005, according to Information Resources Inc., which tracks cosmetics sales.
But the increased demand has spurred an explosion of lotions, sprays, pads and gels with such diverse marketing claims — All-day Protection! Ultra Sweatproof! Total Block! Continuous Protection! Ultra Sport! Instant Protection! Extra UVA Protection! — that the Soffermans are not alone in their confusion over how to choose the most effective sunscreen.
In the nearly 30 years since the Food and Drug Administration issued its first regulations for sunscreen as an over-the-counter drug intended to reduce sunburn risk, the science surrounding skin and cancer has expanded dramatically.
Critics have clamored for the F.D.A to update the rules, saying that the standards have not kept pace. At the same time, they complain, the agency has allowed manufacturers to make vague and improbable-sounding marketing claims, leaving consumers confused and, worse, misled about what to use and how to use it to protect themselves.
The pressure on the agency has been mounting in recent weeks. Last month, reports by Consumer Reports and by the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit group in Washington, found that a variety of popular sunscreens lacked sufficient broad protection against the sun’s harmful rays. And in May, Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s attorney general, sent a scathing petition to the F.D.A. saying that unclear sunscreen labels and inflated marketing put people at risk.
“Most sunscreens are deceptively and misleadingly labeled, most perniciously to give consumers a false sense of security,” Mr. Blumenthal said last week. “In my view, the F.D.A.’s failure to act is unconscionable and unjustifiable in any public sense.”
John Bailey, the executive vice president for science at the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, an industry trade group, said that the directions on sunscreens adequately convey coverage. “These are very beneficial products which should be used to protect against the adverse effects of sunlight,” said Dr. Bailey, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry.
Nonetheless, the F.D.A. seems poised to address the labeling issue. Although it has been planning since 1999 to confirm new rules, Rita Chappelle, a spokeswoman for the F.D.A., said the agency expected to issue new sunscreen standards in the coming weeks. But until they are released, Ms. Chappelle said the agency would not answer questions about forthcoming regulations.
One fact about sunscreens is indisputable: They can impede sunburn and lower the incidence of at least one form of skin cancer in humans.
Dr. Allan C. Halpern, chief of dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, said that the regular use of sunscreen can inhibit squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer that kills 2,000 to 2,500 Americans a year.
In a study of about 1,600 residents of Nambour, Australia, volunteers who were given sunscreen to use every day for four and a half years had 40 percent fewer squamous cell cancers than a control group who maintained their normal skin-care routines. Even 10 years after the study concluded, the volunteers assigned to use sunscreen during the trial period had fewer cancers.
“It shows that using sun protection for almost five years gives you an intense, longer-term benefit against squamous cell carcinoma,” said Dr. Adèle C. Green, deputy director of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia, which ran the study.
Dr. Halpern said that sunscreen should also protect against melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, and basal cell carcinoma, because the product can inhibit harmful ultraviolet rays that can contribute to the diseases.
Yet even after new F.D.A. labeling rules are published, it may take two years for the changes take effect.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Posted by Ayu Chan at 5:21 PM