Friday, June 6, 2014

What does a sunscreen label tell you?

In preparation for discussing the new sunscreen labels, I reviewed a post I wrote a year ago - here - and found that I really don't have new news. The labels do contain new language and unresolved issues are still unresolved.  But at least the labels are now on the products.

I will proceed with the post because as someone who can barely function on cloudy days, sun protection is very important to me.  It is also important because my job as a health educator is to remind people to be safe and smart about their time in the sun.  Evidence does support a link between sun exposure, especially sun burn, and skin cancer and early skin aging.*  (FYI: shoe hide skin is not becoming and your skin will become shoe hide like if you don't protect it.)

When you spend time in the sun:

wear sunscreen, and
make sure that the label says both of these things:
  • broad spectrum
  • SPF 30 (or more)
It is also good if the sunscreen has a seal from the Skin Cancer Foundation,** of which there are several types:
  • Daily Use
  • Active
  • International
  • Traditional
Click here to get the definitions straight from the source, but in case you don't click, I'll provide a brief rundown: the daily use is for people who are exposed to the sun for short bursts of time in their everyday life, for example, going from the car to a store, checking the mail, etc.  Active use is the seal I look for and it is for extended periods of sun exposure while engaging in outdoor recreation, like running, cycling, walking the beach. The international seal is for outside the US and is a little different than the daily and active seal I just described, but it is undergoing a revision so I don't have more details.  Lastly, the traditional seal is for products that block the sun (e.g., glasses, hats) that are not sunscreen.  All products which carry the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) seal have undergone rigorous testing (the manufacturer submits data to the scientific advisory committee at SCF). Not all of the products that have passed the 'test' have the seal on their label.  You can search for recommended products, by category here.  Although in my store visit yesterday, I did not see any spray-on products with the seal, I did see some on the SCF website. 

The new label on sunscreen - where the manufacturer uses terms like broad spectrum and includes the SPF factor - may also say that the product protects against skin cancer and early skin aging.  The reason the manufacturers can make this claim (as long as its SPF greater that 15 and broad spectrum) is because the company has to provide scientific evidence to the FDA that the product offers broad spectrum protection and spf 15 or higher, and those two factors have been empirically tested in regards to the protection they offer against skin cancer and early skin aging (think wrinkles). 

In addition, the label will now tell you how long you can wear the sunscreen while swimming or sweating before the sunscreen needs to be reapplied.  In other words, the sunscreen can be water resistant, but that declaration has to come with a time frame that has been tested.

The issue of  whether or not SPF protection over 50 is possible, has not been resolved, nor has the issue about spray-on sunscreens (they may not cover the body completely and may have toxic fumes).  However, any sunscreen with SPF under 15 has to have a warning that it does NOT protect you from either sun damage or skin cancer.  

I echo the sentiments of many others when I say, use lotion not spray, choose between SPF 30 and 50 and reapply every two hours, but I add this caveat.. . unless you are employed as an outside worker, 2 hours of direct sun a day is bordering on too much.  You need more than sunscreen  - long sleeves, hats, sunglasses for example.

I ran out of my sunscreen last weekend.  I had the spray-on kind, but after reading that the concerns about the fumes and full body protection continue, I opted for a lotion this time.  I agree that SPF 30 is sufficient.  I did choose a product with the SCF Recommendation Active.  Here are photos of my label.  Notice the information about how long this lotion is expected to protect me.

You can see the broad spectrum and SPF declarations and that this lotion is water resistant with the 80 minutes in parenthesis.  I have read that it might be a good idea to avoid oxybenzone, so I like that this product is free of it.  (Oxybenzone may have endocrine effects (related to hormone secretion/disruption)).  I later noticed that this compound is in the sunscreen lotion I recently purchased for my face. This  bothers me.  However, there is no scientific consensus on oxybenzone risks and               many dermatologist still                                                                       recommend it.  Read more here and here.)

The SCF seal is on the back of the bottle.  In the section that begins, Sun Protection Measures, is the language about sun exposure and risk for cancer and early skin aging and how products with broad spectrum and spf + 15 can protect against this risk.

*Epstein, J. H. (1983). Photocarcinogenesis, skin cancer, and aging. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 9(4), 487-502.

**I read in a newspaper article that the companies who wish to submit their product information for a test to receive the SCF seal, must pay a fee or make a donation.  I do not know if that is true, but I have emailed a contact person at the SCF to find out. Meanwhile, the other information about broad spectrum and SPF language is by law and regulated by the FDA.

No comments: