With barbecues, pool parties, summer trips and the Fourth of July just around the corner, skin cancer may be the last thing on many people’s minds.
Four years after announcing their intention to do so, the Food and Drug Administration has finally released new rules for sunscreen labeling. These new rules are intended to cut confusion for consumers purchasing sunscreen products. The FDA is giving sunscreen companies one year to make labeling changes and two years for smaller companies.
Even though better labeled sunscreen will not be available until next year, now is the time to know what to look for.
First, what is SPF? The SPF, or sun protection factor, indicates the amount of sun protection. However, SPF’s under 15 are not shown to protect against sunburn or skin cancer and SPF’s over 50 do not seem to protect significantly better than SPF 50, according to the FDA.
Douglas Powell, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Utah, tells his patients to buy at least SPF 30. A liberal amount should be applied 30 minutes before exposure and at least every two hours after that, he said.
Second, the term “broad-spectrum” used on sunscreen labeles has caused confusion in the past. Broad-spectrum protects against both short UVB and long UVA rays. UVB rays cause sunburn and skin cancer and UVA rays cause skin cancer and premature wrinkling. Sunscreens without broad-spectrum will only protect against UVB rays, according to the FDA’s report. With the new rules, sunscreens that are not broad-spectrum will not be able to claim they protect against skin cancer.
Third, claims such as “waterproof,” “sweat proof” or “sunblock” may have misled consumers. The FDA’s new rules prevent use of these words on packaging because no sunscreen can completely block the sun’s rays or withstand water or sweat. They will allow claims that products are water or sweat-resistant and suggest using these products when sunscreen may wash off. The FDA said it is important to remember sunscreens will eventually come off in the water and do need reapplication.
Although the new rules apply to sunscreens that protect against sun damage, the FDA has given some guidelines for people who like to tan.
Daniel Forrest, a senior studying math education, loves getting a summer tan. He lays out at least four times a week and does not wear sunscreen. He also said he doesn’t know what sunscreen labels mean. However, Powell said a tan is the body’s response to UV damage to the skin, resulting in early wrinkling and skin cancer.
“I have many patients who tanned a great amount at their age who now wish they hadn’t done it, particularly after they have had skin cancer or multiple cosmetic treatments for sun damage,” Powell said. “Unfortunately, the damage from UV rays doesn’t show up until years after the exposure.”