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UVA or UVB? Sunscreen Labels Help You Practice Safe Sun

What's on your sunscreen SPF label? Protection from UVA radiation that can cause skin cancer. Or protection from UVB radiation, the type of ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn.

Congresswoman Lowey at Monday's new sunscreen labels press conference. Contributed photo
Congresswoman Lowey at Monday's new sunscreen labels press conference. Contributed photo

Joined by medical experts and consumer advocates on Monday, Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) hailed new regulations requiring sunscreen manufacturers to disclose whether their products protect against UVA radiation. 

UVA radiation is the type that contributes to skin cancer and premature aging. New consumer protection laws, according to a release from Lowey's office, went into effect in December 2012, and are the result of legislation authored by Lowey in 2007 and pursued for several years.

Previously, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required sunscreen labels only to provide information on protection against UVB radiation, the type of ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn.

Congresswoman Lowey urges consumers to look for the phrase 'broad spectrum' with a high level of SPF when they shop for sunscreen.

Dr. Andy Bronin, a dermatologist in private practice in Rye Brook and Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine explained in the release that the new federal regulations mandate "clear and honest labeling for sunscreens," and that consumers will be able to tell which are water-resistant (none are 'waterproof'), and how long to expect a sunscreen's protection to last, going on to describe requirements as akin to the 'truth-in-labeling' expected from foods and medications. 

“We urge consumers to use only broad spectrum products with an SPF of 40 or more," said Jean Halloran in the release. Halloran is a product safety expert at Consumers Union, an advocacy organization affiliated with Consumer Reports.

In August 2007, Lowey introduced the “Sunscreen Consumer Right to Know Act” to require the FDA to issue sunscreen standards that protect against both skin cancer and sunburn.

While largely preventable, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the country. More than one million people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancer each year.

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