We’ve all heard the warnings about getting too much sun, and how you should use sunscreen. So, in preparation for my family summer vacation, I went to my local pharmacy to pick up a bottle or two. I was bombarded by so many varieties that I stood there for nearly 20 minutes trying to figure out what to buy. In addition to the many levels of SPF, there were many descriptions to consider, such as “water resistant,” “waterproof,” “sweat resistant,” “ultra sweatproof”, etc. Yikes! It was such an overload of information that even I was stunned by it (and I like this sort of geeky, health care kind of stuff!).
So, I decided to do a little bit of research to try to get to the “bottom line.” It was then that I found out that last month the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed the labeling rules to make them more simple. (Please see their press release and this Medscape article for more info.) Manufacturers will have about a year to change their labels.
In the meantime, here is a short lesson on sunburn jargon…
There are two types of rays that cause skin damage – ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B (UVA and UVB). Both can cause premature aging and skin cancer, however, UVB rays are what cause sunburn. In order to be adequately protected, you need a sunscreen that protects against both kinds of rays. With the new rules, manufacturers may only label a sunscreen as “broad-spectrum” if it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
SPF ratings refer to the protection factor from sunburn rays (UVB) and don’t protect you from the UVA rays - the higher the number, the more protection against sunburn. Think of it as your skin needing a thicker coating of the lotion in order to be sure that you don’t burn. You should use an SPF of at least 15. Anything less than that does not provide adequate protection. Under the new rules, the FDA is considering limiting SPF numbers to 50, as they do not see a substantial increase in protection with SPF numbers higher than 50.
The FDA will no longer allow the terms “sunblock,” “waterproof” and “sweatproof” (yeah!!!) The term “water resistant” will be allowed if a manufacturer documents that their product keeps working even after you go in water for 40 minutes or 80 minutes. Hence, you’ll see the term “water resistant- 40 minutes” and “water resistant- 80 minutes.” This labeling will be helpful in protecting kids who love to swim.
So, until the labeling changes go into effect, to protect your skin from sunburn, cancer and premature aging, here is the bottom line:
• only use products that specify “UVA and UVB” protection, with a SPF rating higher than 15;
• use a “water resistant” product if you intend to go swimming;
• reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating, (even if you use “water resistant” sunscreen).
And remember to limit time in the sun, wear cover-ups and hats, and drink plenty of water.