With abbreviations like UVA, UVB, and SPF, the words of a sunscreen label might seem as meaningless as syllables floating in a bowl of alphabet soup. With the next three blogs, the doctors and staff of The Dermatology Group will de-mystify sunscreen labels so that you can select an appropriate sunscreen. The FDA has recently changed the laws concerning those labels, so this blog and the next one will update you about these important new changes. Part III of our series will bring you sun safety suggestions that go beyond the sunscreen.
No lotion can make you sun-proof, but with the new FDA rules, and our special tips for the use of sunshine, you can own the outdoors without sacrificing your skin. Experts have notified us that, “the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to help protect consumers from skin damage caused by excessive sun exposure.” After years of investigation and legislation, the FDA has established strong “standards for testing the effectiveness of sunscreen products and requires labeling that accurately reflects test results”
Three Passwords For Sun Safety: In Part One of this series, the Dermatology Group gives you three terms to find on the label of your sunscreen. We call them our three passwords to sun safety.
1. A Rainbow Of Protection: Look for “broad spectrum” in the label. The term “broad spectrum” can no longer be casually added to a label. The new rules of the FDA define it to mean “that the sunscreen can protect your skin from both types of harmful UV rays — the UVA rays and the UVB rays.” Scientists at the Mayo Clinic explain, “UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkling and age spots. UVB rays can burn your skin. Too much exposure to UVA or UVB rays can cause skin cancer. The best sunscreen offers protection from all UV light.”
2. Know Your Sun Protection Factor: Search For A Proper Protector: SPF 30 or higher should be your standard, and we know many of you already understand this point, but you might not know exactly what SPF stands for. It is the abbreviation for Sun Protection Factor. Experts define it as the “minimum sun radiation dose (mainly UVB) required to produce sunburn after application of 2mg per square centimeter, divided by the dose of sunlight to produce the same effect on unprotected skin. This translates to a protection factor of 50% for SPF2, 87.5% for SPF8, 93.6% for SPF16, and 96.9% for SPF32.”
Another important point about SPF is that, “the SPF is not cumulative; in other words, reapplying a sunscreen after being in the sun for a period of time does not extend the sun protection factor; it will only replenish the protection that may have been washed away by perspiration or during swimming.” New FDA regulations limit the maximum SPF value on sunscreen labeling to “SPF 50+” because that is as well as the protection can be measured, due to mathematical increments, as noted above
3. Swim Safely in the Sun: Look for “Water resistant” on the label.
A notation of “water resistant” on your sunscreen label is another term mandated by the new rules, because sunscreen companies can no longer say they are “water proof.” It has been proven that it is scientifically impossible to make sunscreen in a “water proof” formula. Additionally, look for one of two FDA mandated numbers: “40 minutes or 80 minutes,” printed after the words “water resistant.” That means that if you are wet or sweaty, the sunscreen will remain 40 or 80 minutes “on your skin for a while even if your skin gets wet.” Again, We advise you to read the label closely, because not all sunscreens have “water resistance.”
Special Warning: What’s not on your sunscreen label can hurt you. The micro-photographic art at right, below, is not an abstract museum piece. It is a skin cancer cell, caused by repeated exposure to the harmful rays of the sun. This weird, alien beauty can inflict ugly destruction on your skin. The Dermatology Group Encourages the use of good sunscreen; the skin you save might be your own.
Next week the Dermatology Group will give you more details about your sunscreen label, and explain the two main types of sunscreen. Until then, we urge you to wear a light sunscreen every day for your short jaunts outside. Likewise, when you choose to play in our gorgeous Florida sunshine, please study your sunscreen label for your passwords to sun safety: Broad Spectrum, SPF 30 or Higher, and Water Resistant.”