Sunscreen 101 – What You Should Know About SPF, UVA, UVB, and the FDA

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You slather on last summer’s SPF 50 sunscreen and figure you’re good to go-for a walk, a day at the beach, or relaxing poolside-but you’d be so wrong.

First off, that “50” just means that, without the sunscreen, you’d burn 50 times faster, not that you’re 50 times safer. Plus, if it’s a year old, it’s outdated. And taking a plunge in the sea or pool, or simply sweating removes sunscreen, so you see: you’re not safe at all.

And keep in mind that SPF just refers to how well the product screens out UVB (ultraviolet B) rays, not UVA (ultraviolet A) rays which go even deeper and ages skin, so you get no help there. Both types of rays increase your skin cancer odds.

Under new FDA guidelines, manufacturers must now add a 4-star UVA rating system on sunscreens: low, medium, high, or highest, plus a corresponding star. But don’t expect to see those new labels any time soon; actually, we may have to wait as long as 18 months!

For the time being, the Skin Cancer Foundation says to look for at least one of these UVA-protecting ingredients on the label: avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or ecamsule.

Meanwhile, since more than one million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed annually in this country, take heed:

1. Buy new sunscreen annually, and keep in mind that EWG (Environmental Working Group) determined that 84% of the 785 sunscreens on the market with an SPF rating of 15 or higher offer inadequate protection .

2. Look for those labeled “broad-spectrum.”

3. Select only the top brands, as it’s been shown that 80% of the almost 1,000 brand-name products “contain chemicals that may pose health hazards or don’t adequately protect skin from the sun’s damaging rays.”

4. Use sunscreen liberally and apply frequently-about every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

5. Avoid the sun as much as possible, especially during midday hours.

6. Don’t count on cloudiness to protect you.

7. Seek shade whenever possible.

8. Cover up. Along with sunscreen, don a hat, wear protective clothing, such as those offered by Coolibar, and don’t forget the sunglasses.

9. Remember that washing wears out the UV protection in specially treated clothing, so replace occasionally.

10. Check your skin for any changes, lesions, or spots, and see a dermatologist annually for a professional, full-body check.

11, What’s good for adults is good for kids, too; if one product is irritating or causes a rash, try another.

12. Babies 6 months and younger have no protective melanin in their skin yet, so when there’s no avoiding the sun: cover them up, use the stroller’s canopy/hood, and don’t apply sunscreen altogether, unless so directed by your physician.

13. Look for new FDA-mandated labels in the coming months

write by Michael Riemann


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