European Commission Finds Sunscreen Labels Misleading and Potentially Dangerous

The European Commission is claiming precisely what pending lawsuits in California are alleging, namely, that sunscreen labels are not only misleading, but potentially dangerous in that they lead consumers to believe that the products protect tem from skin cancer or premature aging when, in fact, the benefit of the products is limited to sunburn protection.

The Commission is concerned with such labeling terms as “sunblocker” that could give consumers the mistaken impression that the products give total protection from the sun’s damaging rays. In fact, no sunscreen product provides complete protection from dangerous UV radiation.

As the Commission correctly points out, the common label term, “sun protection factor (SPF),” refers only to the radiation known as ultraviolet UVB, which causes sunburn. SPF does not include the hazardous UVA rays that lead to premature skin aging, immune system problems, and skin cancer.

The Commission is in the process of proposing new labels which prohibit the use of terms like “sunblocker” and indicate UVA protection in a standard format. They would also require clear warnings and instructions on how to use sunscreen products properly.

The guidelines are expected to go into effect next year and would to all sunscreen products sold in the EU, including those imported from other countries.

As previously reported by newsinferno.com with respect to similar concerns in the U.S., even though most people are now aware that prolonged exposure to the sun is a dangerous proposition, many sun “worshippers” choose to tempt fate (and skin cancer) by toasting themselves for hours without any type of protection in order to attain a “golden” tan.

Millions of others (including parents) use massive amounts of “sunscreens” to shield themselves (and their children) from potential harm.

Sunscreens are heavily advertised by a number of manufacturers since the market is a lucrative one where companies stand to make huge sums of money if they can convince consumers that their particular product (or products) offers the best protection against harmful ultraviolet rays.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes skin cancer and the sun is nothing more than a giant, never-ending source of UV rays.

Experts have discovered that UV rays vary in “wavelength” as well as type. Thus, there are UVA and UVB waves and short and long wavelengths.

UVA rays with shorter wavelengths, although harmful, are relatively easy to stop. Longer wavelengths are harder to block and penetrate deep into the skin where they can have a deadly effect with prolonged exposure. UVB rays too need to be blocked or they will also cause damage to the skin.

Thus, unless a sunscreen actually blocks both UVA and UVB rays, of varying wavelengths, effectively, the long-term damage to skin in terms of a significantly heightened risk of developing skin cancer is a serious matter.

Several individual lawsuits have been pending in California that assert sunscreen manufacturers have been misleading the public with false and inaccurate claims concerning the effectiveness of their products.

In March, those lawsuits were consolidated in a new action in Los Angeles Superior Court that also seeks class-action status. The suit seeks to stop allegedly misleading marketing practices, the refund of money, unspecified damages for injuries suffered, and punitive damages.

The new lawsuit alleges that Johnson & Johnson Inc., Schering-Plough Corp., Playtex Products Inc., Tanning Research Laboratories Inc. and Chattem Inc. that market such products as Coppertone, Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic, Bullfrog and Neutrogena, as well as specialty products for children, have knowingly inflated claims about their products’ qualities thereby misleading consumers into believing they are being adequately protected from the dangers associated with long-term exposure to the sun.

As with the actions by the European Commission, the lawsuits are targeting product labeling. The class action does not make any claims for specific personal injuries.

What is alleged is that false advertising has misled the public into believing erroneous claims concerning the overall effectiveness of sunscreens with respect to blocking all UVA and UVB rays, the duration of protection afforded by so-called waterproof sunscreens, and the enhanced protection provided by specialty products marketed specifically for children.

For example, the suit alleges “Schering-Plough misled … the general public by representing that their Coppertone Water Babies UVA/UVB Sunblock Lotion provided 45 times a child’s natural protection against both UVA and UVB rays,” That allegation is based on the claim that “the product only provides that level of protection against UVB, and cites scientific studies showing that the sunscreen ingredients do not provide the same level of UVA protection.” (Reuters 3/30/06).

Clearly, the issue of misleading and potentially dangerous labeling on sunscreen products has caught the attention of experts, consumer advocates, and health officials on both sides of the Atlantic. The combined pressure of government regulations and legal proceedings could result in voluntary action by the various manufacturers to address the problem sooner rather than later.

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