WASHINGTON, DC --In an effort to help Americans better protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) will introduce legislation tomorrow requiring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to swiftly strengthen labeling and testing standards for sunscreen products.

Currently, the FDA only requires sunscreen testing and labeling for sun protection factors (SPF), which mostly measures UVB rays, known for causing sunburns.  But there is no consistency in the SPF number and its protection from UVB rays and there are no current standards that apply to UVA protection.  UVA rays are a major cause of skin cancer and premature aging.  And under the current system, manufacturers may make unproven claims that their products are “waterproof” and “sweatproof,” and offer “all day protection.”  They also have increasingly high SPF numbers, leaving consumers confused and/or with the false impression that they are getting total protection from the sun.

“You shouldn’t need to be a doctor to determine if your sunscreen is safe and effective.  For too long the FDA has allowed manufacturers to get away with inaccurate claims about sun protection, and consumers are getting burned.  It is time to impose sunscreen safety and labeling standards,” said Reed.

Senator Reed’s Sunscreen Labeling Protection (or SUN) Act would require the FDA to implement a clear, standardized, one-to-four star labeling system that would inform consumers of the protection a product would offer against those rays. 

The FDA has been considering such regulations since 1978 and finally released a proposed rule in 2007, but it has yet to be finalized.  Reed’s SUN Act would give the FDA 180 days to finalize and put into place its new standards.

“This is a public health issue and a consumer-rights issue.  Americans should know the sunscreen products they purchase are effective and easy to understand so they may better protect themselves and their children from the sun’s harmful rays.  And sunscreen manufacturers should be required to back up their claims with scientific evidence,” said Reed, who has been pushing the FDA to implement stronger regulations for years.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month.  According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is found in more than 2 million Americans each year and it is estimated that one in five Americans will develop the disease in their lifetime.  And treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers increased by nearly 77 percent between 1992 and 2006.

“Skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer and frequently applying sunscreen can help reduce the risk.  We’ve come a long way in preventing and treating skin cancer and now the FDA itself needs to take action.  They can do that by ensuring consumers have the information they need to protect themselves,” concluded Reed. 

Earlier this week, Reed helped unveil a new survey by the Environmental Working Group, which tested over 1,700 sun products and found that only 20 percent of the beach and sport sunscreens assessed for the 2011 sun season made the grade.