Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sunscreen Labeling Update from the FDA

Hooray! The FDA issued a press release this week that will only allow sunscreen products that protect against BOTH UVA & UVB rays to be labeled as "Broad Spectrum" and they must have SPF values of 15 or higher to state that they reduce the risk of skin cancer and early aging. Previously, SPF only addressed UVB rays, which are the primary cause of sunburn. Both UVA & UVB cause skin damage and skin cancers.

Earlier this month, I blogged about "which sunscreen is best", but let me review a couple key issues. SPF- Sun Protection Factor- measures the amount of solar energy required to cause a sunburn on protected skin versus unprotected skin. While in general terms that means a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 should allow you to be in the sun for 30 times the sun exposure before causing damage, realize there are two major qualifying factors. One, the UV radiation is more intense at different times in the day. Fifteen minutes at noon may equal an hour early in the morning. Two, no sunscreen- even when applied correctly- stays fully effective more than a couple hours. What's correct application? A full OUNCE per person, applied thoroughly and reapplied every two hours. Of course, altitude, latitude, cloud coverage and skin type all factor into the degree of solar intensity required to cause damage as well. With this in mind, the FDA is additionally proposing to limit the maximum SFP to "50+" as there is no evidence to show that products with SPF's higher than 50 provide any additional protection beyond those labeled as 50.

What does all this mean for the average consumer? For now, keep reading sunscreen labels more closely, making sure that the product you are choosing protects against BOTH UVA and UVB radiation. Typically, if you look at the active ingredients and see zinc or titanium dioxide along with several other chemicals, you've got the right product. The new labeling wont be obvious on the shelves till next summer, so while this announcement is a step in the right direction, don't assume products labeled "broad spectrum" this year are truly that. Also, please don't forget about hats and protective clothing, especially if you are going to have extended time outdoors.

BOTTOM LINE: Double check your sunscreen to be sure you are protecting your skin from BOTH types of UV radiation- UVA & UVB- because they BOTH cause skin damage that can lead to skin cancers.

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