This was supposed to be the year that we finally got some clarity on what all those sunscreen numbers mean. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had given manufacturers until next month to clarify how protection their products really offer and get new labels on store shelves.
Even though this order was issued a year, manufacturers had claimed that it wasn't enough time to comply with all the FDA's new rules, which included a ban on using the words "waterproof" or "sweatproof" and distinguishing between protection against ultraviolet B rays, which cause sunburn, and ultraviolet A rays, which cause more damage (including wrinkles and possibly skin cancer).
Now it seems that the FDA is accepting sunscreen industry pleas and postponing the deadline for changes until at least December for big companies and possibly next year for smaller manufacturers.
In the meantime, here are some tips for you this summer, when at least some of the old and apparently misleading sunscreen labels will still be around:
Look for protection against both A and B rays
A sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher is best
Avoid direct sun in the middle of the day
Reapply sunscreen often, especially after swimming or engaging in sweat-producing activity
Don't stint on the amount you apply. Laboratory tests of sunscreen use far more than most consumers so a small amount won't give you the protection you're expecting.