In an effort to understand the FDA’s new regulations it’s important to understand some terms that we often see on our sunscreen labels. Don’t know what I’m talking about click here to read part one of this series.
These are some of the terms commonly found on sunscreens.
Sunblock – a topical product applied to the skin that is believed to protect skin from UV radiation. The radiation is either blocked (scattered) or absorbed by the ingredients in the topical product.
SPF – Sun Protection Factor indicates the level of protection skin has from harmful sun exposure (UVB exposure only).1 Determining what SPF you need can be a complicated math equation, but as a general rule of thumb 30 SPF is sufficient for the average person.2 More SPF makes sense if you or your family has a history of skin cancer. Most research indicates anything claiming over 50 SPF is more hype then anything else.
Get the most out of your sunscreen by applying it correctly.
Step 1: Apply to skin 30 min prior to sun exposure.
Step 2: Re-apply after 15-30 minutes after initial sun exposure.
Step 3: Re-apply every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating.
Why? Answer: Some ingredients in sunscreens need to be absorbed in order to provide protection, some need to be layered and some simply wash off or sweat off. These three steps will give you the best protection.
UVA – Electromagnetic radiation, long wave Ultraviolet light can’t be seen with the human eye and it’s effects on our skin are not always visible. In fact UVA exposure has zero symptoms, not even sunburn. UVA exposure causes a DNA mutation which can lead to Melanoma.. the deadliest form of skin cancer. 3
So you will not even know if you have had too much exposure until it’s too late!
UVB – Electromagnetic radiation, short wave Ultraviolet Light can result in sunburn, blistering of the skin and some forms of skin cancer. It’s important to note that this is also a vital source of Vitamin D.
Broad or Full Spectrum Coverage – the words lead the public to believe that the product it’s describing will protect them against both UVA and UVB rays. This is NOT correct, in fact this is one of those terms that hasn’t been regulated by the FDA in the past.
So, what should all this mean to us? Below are my thoughts.
Being out in the sun can be a healthy thing, we should enjoy great weather and have fun. When armed with the proper information and right protection, there is no need to fear the sun.
Skin is exposed to UVA without protection far more often than UVB…because remember SPF only protects against UVB rays.
Chose a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30 and make sure it has UVA and UVB protection. If it doesn’t say those words specifically then find one that does! The Environmental Working Group has an amazing database that you can put your current products to the “test” and they give recomendations if you need one.
Now we know what needs to be in our sunscreens. But, are there ingredients in our sunscreen that we should be concerned about? The next post in this series will help to decode some of this.
1: Wikipedia and Websters
2: Environmental Working Group