There is no doubt that the sun is as essential for humans as it is for our planet. People need a certain amount of exposure to the sun for the synthesis and production of vitamin D – a necessary nutrient for healthy aging, immune function, bone density and antioxidant protection. The question is “how much sun is too much?”
A Little History About Sunscreen
In the early part of the 20th century, sun-kissed skin became a symbol of health and vitality. Little was known about the damage the sun could cause, so people spent long days in the sun, tanning their bodies to a golden sheen. It was not until the 1980s that consumers became aware of the risks of too much sun exposure and the association of excessive sun tanning with cancer risk. This triggered a boom in the sun-protection industry, and SPF 15 became the recommended standard formulation for effective protection from the sun.
In the early 1990s, scientists became aware of the damaging effects of UVA and UVB rays on the skin. New products designed to block these rays emerged. But concern over these new findings also triggered the discussion about ‘how much protection do you need? Is more protection better, and if so, should it cost more?’ Once again, new products emerged, offering an array of SPF protection ranging from the standard SPF 15 to SPF 100. With so many options, claims and promises, consumers became hard-pressed to select a sunscreen right for them. After all, there were no rules regarding marketing, labeling and efficacy of the product.
In June 2011, the U.S. FDA announced that starting in the summer of 2012, sunscreen products will have to undergo standardized tests to determine how they should be labeled and marketed. In other words, prior to labeling and marketing any sunscreen product, manufacturers will have to conduct a series of standardized tests on their product that prove that any claims they make are, in fact, true and accurate.
New Guidelines for Sunscreen
In an interview with Dermascope this year, Timothy Turnham, Executive Director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, stated that the new guidelines for sunscreen products reflect the scientific data and the wealth of knowledge now available regarding the sun’s harmful effects on our skin, health and aging process. Some of the most important changes you will see starting in the Summer of 2012 will be:
- Only broad spectrum sunscreens (meaning they protect you from UVA and UVB rays) with SPF 15 to SPF 50 and above, can claim to be able to ‘reduce the risk of cancer and early skin aging’.
- In order to use the term ‘broad spectrum SPF’ the amount of UVA and UVA protection must be equal. So, starting in the summer of 2012, consumers can be certain that a sunscreen product labeled ‘broad spectrum SPF’ has passed the FDA’s tests to ensure equal protection from UVA and UVB rays.
- Sunscreens lower than SPF 15 will only be allowed to claim that they ‘help prevent sunburn’.
- Because there is no evidence that sunscreen with a value higher than SPF 50 offers more protection, those products that have a higher SPF value can only state that they are ‘SPF 50+’.
- Starting in 2012, there will be no more claims that a sunscreen is ‘waterproof’ or ‘sweat proof’ – that’s because these products lead people believe that they need only apply the product once and they will be protected all day. New labeling rules require that these products are now labeled ‘water resistant’ and manufacturers will have to specify how long the water resistance lasts – either 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating (these times are based on standardized testing).
- Any sunscreen that does not go through ‘water resistant’ testing will not be able to claim any protection while swimming or sweating and must state that the consumer should wear ‘adequate protection during these activities”.
- Most people believe that the higher the SPF number the longer it protects, so they apply it less often – a critical mistake. Now labels will state that consumer should ‘reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, or after swimming or sweating’.
A Note About Sprays
Spray products are popular because they are less messy to deal with. However, the FDA is not convinced that sprays provide the same protection as creams and lotions and is requesting additional data on these products before issuing specific guidelines.
Take Care Out There
Contrary to popular belief, a tan is not ‘healthy’ – a tan is a sign that damage has been done to the skin. When exposed to the sun’s UV rays, your skin produces melanin, the dark pigment that creates a tan. A tan is your skin’s attempt to prevent UV rays from doing any further damage to the sensitive skin cells in your epidermis. Also, a tan does not help protect your skin from getting a sunburn in the future – while it may offer some protection, a tan is only the equivalent of SPF 4!
So finally, in the summer of 2012, there will be less confusion about sunscreen. Consumers will have clear instructions on how it works and how to use it. So take care out there, enjoy the sun in moderation and use your sunscreen effectively.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sunscreen (healthyskinsolutions.com)
Signs of Sun Damage & How to Prevent Sun Damage (healthyskinsolutions.com)
Sun Damaged Skin (healthyskinsolutions.com)
Professional Treatment of Sun Damaged Skin (healthyskinsolutions.com)
Repairing Sun Damaged Skin (healthyskinsolutions.com)
- usgovinfo.about.com: FDA Proposes New Sunscreen Regulations
- Dermascope January 2012: 66-70