Regulators Want UVA Ratings on Sunscreens

The Food and Drug Administration proposed a new system of rankings that would appear on the packaging of sunscreens to reflect their power against ultraviolet A radiation from the sun. SPF deals with a sunscreen's ability to block sunburn-causing ultraviolet B rays. Sunscreen labels now lack ratings for UVA. SPF stands for sun protection factor, but the FDA wants to change that to sunburn protection factor.

Under the new plan, a graphic of stars -- with four designating the most protection and one the least -- would appear near the SPF number. The graphic would also carry a description, ranging from 'low' to 'highest.' Sunscreens that don't work against UVA would have to say 'No UVA Protection' on their labels. The new proposal emerges a decade after Congress in 1997 ordered the FDA to come out with regulations for sunscreen products.

The FDA wants to make several other changes to sunscreen labeling as well, including a warning somewhat like those that now appear on cigarette packs. The new warning would read: 'UV exposure from the sun increases the risk of skin cancer, premature skin aging and skin damage' and would urge consumers to limit their time in the sun and wear protective clothing in addition to using sunscreen.

The agency's proposal could take years to become final and effective, though FDA officials said they would seek to move expeditiously. 'It is long overdue to have a UVA rating system,' said Henry W. Lim, chairman of the dermatology department at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

American Academy of Dermatology Association said more than one million new cases of skin cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, with more than 100,000 of them melanoma, the most dangerous form. Total U.S. sales of sun-protection products grew to $1.01 billion in 2006, from $811 million five years before, according to market-research firm Euromonitor International.