Sunscreen sales are fast approaching $1 billion dollars in the U.S. yet skin cancer rates continue to climb, and melanoma diagnoses have risen almost 2% a year since 2000. Some experts believe people don’t use sunscreen appropriately, or don’t reapply it often enough. However, there are also concerns that many sunscreens with a high sun protection factor, or SPF are made to mainly protect people from ultraviolet B rays, the main agent of sunburn. While these sunscreens may let users stay out longer, they don’t as a matter of course protect them from ultraviolet A rays. These rays are linked with aging and skin damage, but some experts think they may also be associated to skin cancer.
People are urged to protect their skin with hats, shirts and coverups, as well as limiting their time in the sun, especially during the midday. “Sunscreen is not a magic bullet. It’s just one of the defenses against the harmful effect of UV radiation, and that message gets lost,” says Dr. Steven Q. Wang, director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, N.J., and a spokesman for the Skin Cancer Foundation.
New labeling rules from the Food and Drug Administration will hopefully enable consumers to better understand the ingredients in the sunscreens they buy. “Broad spectrum protection” now means the sunscreen has been proven to protect against UVA and UVB rays, though the UVA protection may be weaker. Sunscreens with an SPF lower than 15 must carry label warnings that they will not protect against skin cancer. Products cannot say they are waterproof, only water-resistant, and labels must now state a time limit of either 80 or 40 minutes before sunscreen is no longer effective. Sunscreens can still be sold with SPFs that exceed 50, however FDA officials are evaluating whether they should stay on the market – they may no be more effective, and consumers may not apply them as often.
Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst for the Environmental Working Group feels the U.S. still has a long way to go in keeping up with the tougher standards in Europe and Canada. “In the U.S., you can make a bad sunscreen and just not call it ‘broad spectrum’, but still sell it. In Europe, the pass-fail test is stronger, and it must protect against both UVA and UVB,” she said. Lunder suggests looking for products with an SPF of 15 to 50 that are labeled “broad spectrum protection” – meaning they protect against UVA and UVB rays. Higher SPF values are misleading. “It’s like the gas mileage sticker on a car. It’s based on test conditions that you’ll never achieve in the real world,” she says.
Another tip – avoid sunscreen sprays. The FDA has banned sunscreen powders and are looking at sprays. There may not be enough sunscreen that makes it onto the skin, and there is concern the spray may be inhaled into the lungs. Avoid products with vitamin A, a retinyl or its derivatives including retinyl palmitate and retinyl acetate. The FDA says there is not enough evidence to suggest these are harmful, but Canadian health authorities are proposing that sunscreens with retinyl palmitate carry a warning saying they can increase the possibility of a sunburn for up to a week……. NYTimes.com 5/27/13