We've noted here before to avoid the use of spray sunscreens as well as those that use heavy fragrance. New FDA guidelines for 2013 add to this mix and try to clarify issues with mislabeling or false claims made on the packaging of some sunscreens. So with many people taking a short vacation, or if you're like me, heading to the beach for the weekend, now is a good time to review what the changes are and what are some good guidelines for selecting and using sunscreen.
_Modern sunscreen consists of a variation of zinc oxide. Though not as common as in the past, many will remember the white line of sunblock that men used to put on their noses while at the beach. Today, there are lotions, spray and even powders (though they should have been removed from shelves by last December) that people use to block sun and harmful UV rays. With so many choices it can be difficult to decide which sunscreen is right for you and in many cases, what is even effective.
_FDA guidelines approved last December work on two primary issues. First, the FDA addresses ‘broad spectrum’ protection. Almost all sunscreens blocks UVB light, as this is the type of ultraviolet light that causes sunburns, but UVA also damages skin. UVA has been shown to cause cancer as well as prematurely age skin, so the FDA has mandated to manufacturers that they can only market their product as ‘broad spectrum’ if it blocks both UVA and UVB light.
_For beachgoers, a waterproof sunscreen has been the product of choice, but recent findings show that there is literally no such thing as ‘sweatproof’ or ‘waterproof sunscreen.’ Some sunscreen can be water resistant, but all sunscreens, after a given period of time, will wear off. Manufacturers are now required to use the term ‘water resistant’ and note the duration of protection, i.e. Water Resistant (40 Minutes). Many people mistakenly believe that if they've applied sunscreen, they are good to go for the rest of the day. Sunscreen wears off, period. It needs to be reapplied throughout the day, typically every couple hours, and sooner if you are swimming or sweating.
_Though the new guidelines are a good step in the right direction, the FDA has yet to make any new guidelines on SPF numbers or the use of aerosol sunscreen. Research shows, and your dermatologist will recommend, that you use at least SPF 15 sunscreen but SPF higher than 45 is likely just a waste. We often think more is better, but in the case of sunscreen, there is no evidence to support that. SPF 30 sunscreen blocks about 97% of UVB rays, while SPF 45 blocks 98%. So for now, stick with a properly labeled SPF 30 or 45.
_As we mentioned last summer, it is probably best to continue to avoid the use of aerosol sunscreen. When a sunscreen becomes aerosolized, it can be inhaled. There is nothing is sunscreen that should be inhaled, and many of the ingredients can be particularly harmful for delicate lung tissue.
_In general, keep an eye out for the new labeling requirements. Stick with a good SPF 30-45 that uses no ‘fragrance.’ Be sure to reapply at least every 2-3 hours, and avoid the aerosols. Lastly, many of us generally only use sunscreen while at the beach, and since this can be a summer only activity, keep an eye on the expiration date of your sunscreen. It can expire and will not provide the protection you think.
_For a sensitive skin or sunscreen that isn't laden with heavy fragrance try Vanicream line of sunscreens. All three offer broad spectrum protection with a limited chemical footprint.
_To read the FDA sunscreen consumer guidelines.
_Author: K. Gilmore