May 152012

Navigating the sunscreen aisle in the drugstore can be a daunting task (kind of like me navigating my way around a hardware store).  Bottles and bottles line the shelves – all of them bearing labels with multiple promises.

There are SPFs from 4 (eek) to 100.  There are “sport” versions and spray cans – oils, creams and waterproof gels.  Now that you are thoroughly confused by all of the options, how do you really know that this potion is doing its most important job – protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays?

Here are some basic facts about sunscreen and the sun’s rays.

-There are two main types of UV rays that can affect our skin – UVA and UVB.

-UVA rays are the most prevalent.  They penetrate deep into the skin and are the cause of premature aging and wrinkles.

-UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn.

-You need a sunscreen that protects from both types of rays.  Many sunscreens have adequate UVB protection but lack adequate UVA protection.

-To ensure that your sunscreen provides UVA protection, look for one or more of the following active ingredients (for US consumers):  Avobenzone, ecamsule (also known as Mexoryl), titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

For those who are still confused (probably most of us), the US FDA has instituted new regulations for sunscreen labeling which will go into effect in December 2012 (some companies have already changed their labels).  The major components of the new labeling requirements are:

-The words “waterproof”, “sweatproof” and “sunblock” may not be used.

-The words “water resistant” may be used, however, the label must state whether the product is water resistant for 40 minutes or 80 minutes of swimming.

-The words “broad spectrum” may be used for products that have passed the FDA’s test measuring the product’s effectiveness against both UVA and UVB rays.

-The only sunscreens that may claim to reduce the chances of skin cancer and premature aging are those that offer an SPF of 15 or higher and have passed the FDA’s broad spectrum test.

In my next post I’ll let you in on some of my sunscreen secrets.

Here are some helpful links for further reading.

Skin Cancer Foundation

Q&A on FDA Guidelines

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