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Group: Effectiveness of Sunscreens Hazy

Advocacy Group Says Many Popular Sunscreens Offer Inadequate Sun Protection, Calls on FDA to Implement Label Changes

Sunscreens Under Scrutiny continued...

"All Coppertone products are photostable, provide UVA/UVB protection, and are routinely evaluated for safety and efficacy by independent dermatologists and scientists," Julie Lux of Schering-Plough says.

"Coppertone is committed to the science and safety of sun care and is concerned that reports like this one released by the Environmental Working Group will inappropriately discourage consumers from protecting themselves from the sun."

A spokeswoman for Neutrogena parent company Johnson & Johnson also defended its sunscreens.

"All Neutrogena products undergo extensive testing to ensure safety and efficacy," Iris Grossman says in a statement.

Banana Boat issued a statement saying that all Banana Boat products "use only ingredients that are safe and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other worldwide regulatory bodies," that their products won't break down in the sun, and that the Skin Cancer Foundation officially recommends Banana Boat as an effective UV sunscreen.

The EWG analysis suggested that nearly half of the products contained ingredients known to become inactive in strong sunlight.

"It may seem counterintuitive, but of the 17 'active ingredients' that FDA has approved for use as sunscreens in the U.S., at least four of them break down significantly when they are exposed to sunlight," the EWG report notes. "They lose their ability to absorb the sun's harmful rays and stop working effectively in as little as 30 minutes, ranging up to several hours."

Products containing the sun-stable and UVA filtering ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide were more likely to score highly in the group's analysis.

The report also criticized what EWG analysts called "over-the-top" marketing claims that they contend would not be allowed under the proposed FDA guidelines.

"There are more than 1 million skin cancers diagnosed in the United States every year," Houlihan says. "Sunscreen is a very important part of sun protection, and it is important that consumers know what they are getting."

Industry Responds

Two spokesmen for the sunscreen industry called the EWG claims unfounded and erroneous.

Personal Care Products Council (PCPC) general council Farah Ahmed calls the contention that 7% of high SPF sunscreens do not protect against UVA rays "highly inaccurate."

"It is very clear to me that they have a very low level of understanding of the way sunscreens work and the way they are regulated by the FDA and tested by the industry," Ahmed tells WebMD.

Personal Care Products Council chief scientist John Bailey, PhD, says sunscreens are both safe and effective and highly regulated by the FDA.

Bailey noted that the agency already has the authority to bring action against any manufacturer that makes unsubstantiated claims about a sunscreen.

"The contention that (sunscreens) are too loosely or ineffectively regulated is just not true," he tells WebMD.

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