This June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued new guidelines for sunscreen labeling. Their hope is that this will give consumers better information about a product’s effectiveness and for the first time, the packaging will directly state that sunscreens protect against skin cancer and early skin aging.
According to the FDA, SPF or Sunburn Protection Factor is a measure of how much solar energy (UV radiation) is required to produce sunburn on protected skin relative to the amount of solar energy required to cause sunburn on unprotected skin. As the SPF value increases, sunburn protection increases.
The new guidelines, which will go into effect by summer 2012, will remove much of the guesswork from sunscreen shopping. Any product that is labeled “broad spectrum,’’ and has an SPF rating higher than 15, should protect against both sunburns and skin cancer. To reinforce the point, products that don’t meet those standards will have a clear warning. “Broad spectrum” means protection not just from UVB radiation, but from UVA radiation too.
How high of an SPF should you choose? Is SPF 50 really that much better than SPF 30? As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, states that the new guidelines are designed to reduce consumer confusion.
The SPF in sunscreen ranges from two (2) to as high as 50, but how much stronger is the 50 than the 2? SPF refers to a product's ability to screen or block out the sun's harmful rays. According to the American Melanoma Foundation (AMF), if you use a sunscreen with an SPF 15, you can be in the sun 15 times longer that you can without sunscreen before burning.
It is important to remember that SPF protection does not increase proportionally with an increased SPF number, so while an SPF of 2 will absorb 50 percent of UV radiation, an SPF of 15 absorbs 93 percent and an SPF of 34 absorbs 97 percent. Additionally, because a lot of sunscreens rub off or don’t stay put, most dermatologists advise you reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
A Summary of the FDA’s New Sunscreen Guidelines:
- The claim “broad spectrum” will appear only on sunscreens tested for a minimum standard of UVA protection.
- All sunscreens will carry their SPF rating. On products without the broad-spectrum claim, SPF will rate only UVB protection. On broad-spectrum sunscreens, higher SPF numbers mean more protection against UVB as well as more protection against UVA.
- As do other over-the-counter drugs, sunscreens will now have a “fact box” listing warnings and other important information in an easy-to-find location.
- Sunscreens that claim to be water resistant must show how long they last after a person has been swimming or sweating: 40 minutes or 80 minutes. Sunscreens that are not water resistant will have to say so in the “fact box” on the side or back of the package.
While proper sunscreen use is an obvious way to help prevent the risk of early skin aging and skin cancer, other recommended methods of protecting your skin from the dangerous effects of the sun include the following:
- Limit time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense.
- Wear clothing to cover skin exposed to the sun; for example, long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and broad-brimmed hats.
- Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, more often if you’re sweating or jumping in and out of the water.
In accordance with the FDA, Maxim Healthcare Services is highlighting sun protection as an important public health issue, and sunscreen as an integral part of a comprehensive sun protection regimen. The FDA’s new guidelines and regulations on sunscreen labels will bring awareness to and acknowledges the importance of UVA protection in the prevention of skin cancer.
Maxim hopes that these new FDA rules will enable you to choose sunscreens wisely and help protect you and your loved ones from the serious, long-term effects of the sun. Remember, cancer treatment is much more difficult than cancer prevention.