Health & Development
New Guidelines for Sunscreens
Parents may be asking, “Where’s my favorite sunscreen?” when they go to stores this summer.
After 33 years, the FDA is updating its guidelines. New labeling will be mandatory in December 2012, but about two-thirds of sunscreens on the shelves are carrying updated labels this summer, according to Dr. Kendra Bergstrom, a dermatologist with Pacific Medical Centers on Seattle’s First Hill and Canyon Park in Bothell. She outlines the main changes:
- Sunscreens with a SPF (sun protection factor) below 15 will have to state that they do not protect against skin cancer. “With SPF under 15, you can protect from actual burns, but not the DNA damage that causes cancer,” Bergstrom explains.
- The highest SPF rating will now be 50+. Older sunscreens often carried SPF ratings of 80 or higher, but “researchers found that people weren’t getting more bang from 100 SPF than from 50 SPF; they’re not clinically different,” Bergstrom says. Higher numbers “may have led people to a false sense of security.”
- Labels will no longer be able to claim that a sunscreen is “waterproof” or “sweatproof.” The new terms will be “sweat resistant” or “water resistant” for 40 minutes or 80 minutes. “It’s a reminder that you need to re-apply,” Bergstrom adds.
- Products that protect against both types of ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB, will be labeled “broad spectrum.” Previously, SPF measured the degree of protection against UVB rays, long believed to be the main culprit in causing skin cancer, and consumers had to look at the small print to see if the also harmful UVA rays were blocked.
The main problem with the use of sunscreen is that people do not use enough, according to Bergstrom. About 2 tablespoons should be used to cover an entire child’s body (a shot glass full to cover an adult’s). Lotions, gels or sprays are equally good – “whichever one you’ll use,” Bergstrom adds. Be aware that sand, water or snow reflect the sun’s rays and increase the exposure, so more sunscreen may be necessary.
Bergstrom warns that babies younger than 6 months – of any race – have not developed the melanin to protect against the sun’s rays. They should be completely shaded from the sun or protected with products that physically block the sun’s rays, such as titanium or zinc blockers. This is because the chemicals used in sunscreen products could be harmful to infants.
Physical titanium and zinc blockers are also best for children with chemical sensitivity or eczema. Newer products are an improvement over early white and sticky blockers, she notes. Even better and more reliable are new versions of SPF clothing, where the protection is woven into the fabric – there are no chemicals and no need to reapply.