Health

FDA to Relabel Sunscreens With UVA Protection Rating

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I try to use sunscreen SPF 30 or higher every time I go in the sun, and am not a fan of getting a great tan.   Despite this I really don’t know, nor does anyone else, just how effective sunscreens are at preventing skin cancer.  What we do know is th

I try to use sunscreen SPF 30 or higher every time I go in the sun, and am not a fan of getting a great tan.   Despite this I really don’t know, nor does anyone else, just how effective sunscreens are at preventing skin cancer.  What we do know is that the FDA has proposed a new labeling mandate for sunscreen.

Currently sunscreen labels are graded for protection against ultraviolet B spectrum rays (UVB) which is the frequency of rays that causes sunburn.  For this reason the strength of the UVB protection is called Sunburn Protection Factor (SPF) and is graded from 2 through 50.  SPF 10 is less effective than SPF 15, which is less than SPF 30 etc. 

The new FDA proposal is for sunscreen to also have a rating for protection against Ultraviolet A frequency radiation (UVA) which penetrates the skin more than UVB and leads to more tanning.  UVA frequency rays also cause skin cancer, so you cannot assume that by tanning but not burning you are avoiding skin cancer risk.  In fact despite increased use of sunscreens and increased awareness of the need for UV ray protection the incidence of malignant melanoma has doubled since 1973, although the death rate from melanoma has remained essentially stable over the last 10 years.  This may be due to increased awareness and early diagnosis with more diagnoses being of more superficial lesions, or may be to overdiagnosis.

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The new FDA proposal calls for some revisions to the SPF ratings, and adding a star system for UVA protection.  The stars will stand for :

  • * one star            = Low protection from UVA rays.
  • **two stars         = Medium protection from UVA rays
  • *** three stars   =  High protection from UVA rays
  • ****four stars    = Highest UVA protection available in an OTC product

Here is the proposed labeling from the FDA site:

As summer approaches remember that even using the best available sunscreens is only somewhat protective against damaging radiation.  In addition to sunscreen pay attention to these additional methods of protection:

  • Wear sunglasses.  Make sure your sun glasses give UV light protection.  Some designer fashion glasses may not.
  • Protective clothing is the best way to keep the sun’s damaging rays off you skin when you are in the sun.
  • Try to avoid direct midday sun when the rays pass through less atmosphere and have the most intensity.
  • Reapply sunscreen frequently. Every 2 hours is recommended, and use adequate amounts.  I very thin layer is not as effective.  Until the new labeling takes effect, choose a brand of sunscreen that claims a broad spectrum protection, to get UVA protection as well as the UVB protection the SPF factor signifies.
  • Remember that tanning is at least as dangerous as sunlight, and though you may like the appearance of a “healthy tan” it really is far from healthy.

Enjoy the summer sun, but protect your skin.