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Sunscreen Solutions

17. June 2013

Thanks to the Food and Drug Administration and San Diego Union-Tribune journalist R.J. Ignelzi, I finally have clarity on one of the mysteries of the Universe.

Sunscreen.

Armed with the FDA’s revised labeling and R.J.’s recent article which clearly explains the new rules, I can now boldly and confidently approach the sunscreen display at my neighborhood Rite Aid.

For years I have stared stupidly at the convoluted descriptions on literally scores of different sunscreen products…trying to make a choice often leaving the store empty-handed. SPF 30 or broad spectrum? Anti-aging or UV-B protection? Or UV-A? I don’t know. Waterproof or water resistant? Lotion or spray? It was enough to make me want to stay indoors!

No more! This summer I’m ready to take on Banana Boat, Coppertone or any other sunscreen product that even attempts to intimidate me!

If you haven’t yet loaded up on this summer’s supply of sunscreen, have no fear. A few simple changes on your favorite sunscreen labels will make it a whole lot easier to make the right sunscreen choice for you and your family.

R.J’s informative article in the “Health” section of the U-T, reporting on the government’s revised and updated labeling, cuts through the bureaucratic blather so all you have to do is lather on the sunscreen – confident you’re protected from the sun’s damaging rays.

Here’s what to look for on sunscreen labels now:

SPF value better defined:
The new labeling now tells consumers that sunscreen labeled as SPF 15 (or higher) and “broad spectrum” (see below) not only protect against sunburn, but, if used with other sun protection measures, can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.

Any sunscreen that has an SPF value between 2 and 14 must now carry a warning: “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”

No more super SPFs
Sunscreen products that have SPF values higher than 50 must now be labeled as “SPF 50+.”

According to the FDA, SPF 15 blocks about 93 percent of harmful rays. “Any produce with an SPF value of 50 or higher adds little additional protection.”

Broad spectrum
Under the new regulations, sunscreen products that protect against all types of sun-induced skin damage are labeled “broad spectrum” on the front of the package.

The FDA now has a standard test for over-the-counter sunscreen products that determines which are allowed to be called “broad spectrum.” Products that pass this test will provide protection against both UVA and UVB radiation. Sunburn is caused primarily by UVB. Both can cause sunburn, skin cancer and premature skin aging. By contrast, any sunscreen not labeled “broad spectrum” must state on the label that the product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn – not skin cancer.

Water resistance claims
Manufacturers cannot make claims that sunscreens are “waterproof” or “sweat proof.” Instead they may label products as “water resistant,” but must say how much time a user can expect to be protected while swimming or sweating. Based on standard testing, two times are now permitted on labels: 40 or 80 minutes.

No immediate protection
Sunscreen cannot claim protection immediately on application (for example, “instant protection.”] or protection for more than two hours without reapplication, unless they get FDA approval.

No more sun blocks
Since no sunscreen product completely blocks all UV rays, manufacturers cannot use the term “sun block.”

Thanks R.J. Thanks FDA.

Now, be strong and courageous! Consider yourself armed as you take on the sunscreen display this summer and choose the sun protection product that’s just right for you!

See you at the beach!

Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.