The Truth About Sunscreen: Are Labels Lying?

How to protect your skin this Memorial Day Weekend

ByABC News
May 25, 2012, 3:24 PM

May 25, 2012— -- As summer approaches and Americans head to the beaches for Memorial Day Weekend, people are stocking up on sunscreen to protect their skin. But finding a good sunscreen can be difficult. Walk down the aisle looking to buy sunscreen and you're bombarded with claims such as waterproof, sweat-proof, and protects against skin cancer. The problem, many of those claims are false.

For example, some sunscreen advertises themselves as being waterproof and offering all-day protection. The FDA has labeled both these claims "misleading and false." According to David Andrews of the Environmental Working Group, there's no such thing as waterproof sunscreen at all. No matter what the sunscreen, he told us, "at some point it will rub off and dissolve in to the water."

Some sunscreens also offer broad spectrum protection, a term which seems to indicate that they protect against skin cancer, sunburn and aging. This isn't always the case. Products with SPF 15 or lower may protect against sunburn, but they do not help against wrinkles and skin cancer. In addition, some sunscreens protect against UVB rays, but not UVA. Both types work together to damage the skin.

In 2011 the FDA took action against the sunscreen makers, demanding that they update their labels to reflect these realities. Among other things, the FDA now requires a "test method to demonstrate that a sunscreen product provides 'broad spectrum" protection, which is protection against both UVB and UVA radiation." Sunscreen manufacturers were given until this summer to update their labels accordingly.

However, not all companies have been able to comply. The companies argued that they couldn't meet the new regulations in time for this summer, appealing to the FDA for more time. The agency has granted them an extension until December to get their labels into compliance. The FDA defended the decision, telling ABC News, "we think that the data they have submitted does adequately support delaying compliance date," adding, "You are already starting to see some of these new testing and labeling requirements being implemented."

In the meantime, stores are stocked with a mixture of old and new labels, making it difficult to tell what really works.

The FDA says without the delay, there may have been a sunscreen shortage. So consumers can now count on plenty of sunscreen--but just a shade of truth.