Cutting Through The SPF Label

A Practical Field Guide To Choosing & Using Sunscreen Effectively by:
Brian A. Guadagno – CEO, Raw Elements USA

While many believed summer 2012 would be the year to bring some clarity to the sunscreen category, it appears this will have to wait. The FDA has delayed their long awaited, updated sunscreen regulations until 2013, effectively. Once in place, they should begin to bring many sunscreen label claims back down to earth, though the new regs are a bit less comprehensive with regards to UVA protection than many had expected. For more on the coming regulations, visit: As for this summer though, it is up to consumers to choose and use their sunscreens and the containing ingredients wisely if seeking effective, broad spectrum protection.

There are two types of ultraviolet rays of concern to our skin; UVB and UVA. UVB rays are primarily responsible for reddening or “burning” of the outer layers of skin. UVB damage and sunburning can cause skin cancer. Each incidence of sunburning to a peel is believed to increase one’s risk of Skin Cancer by 50%. UVA rays, the “tanning” rays, are deeper penetrating and responsible for long term skin “aging”, wrinkles and cellular damage. UVA rays are now believed to be responsible for the most aggressive any potentially deadly form of skin cancer, Melanoma. To easily remember the effects of the two types of ultraviolet rays, think; UVB-burning/sun burn, UVA-aging/tan. Over exposure to both UVA and UVB rays is carcinogenic and can cause Skin Cancer.

Fact: Skin cancer rates continue to rise as does the use of sunscreen. Now there may be contributing factors which come into play that may not have anything to do with sunscreen or its application. That said, the single most important job of an effective sunscreen, is to truly attain and maintain, balanced Broad Spectrum protection. The manner in which the consumer applies said sunscreen will dramatically affect its performance. Broad Spectrum protection refers to a product’s ability to effectively mitigate the harmful effects of both UVB and UVA rays. Until the new sunscreen regulations go into effect in 2013, the SPF number only correlates to UVB protection, not UVA protection. It is crucial, as a consumer, to seek sunscreens that contain active ingredients which provide broad spectrum protection and apply and reapply properly.

How To Choose Sunscreen Effectively
1. Choose Broad Spectrum UVA Protection. Donʼt let the term ʻBroad Spectrumʼ on the label make the sale, look deeper. There are 18 FDA approved active ingredients in sunscreen that provide protection. While many of these offer UVB protection, only four offer UVA protection. Look for UVA active ingredients: Avobenzone (Parsol), Mexoryl SX, Titanium Dioxide, and Zinc Oxide. Of these four, Zinc Oxide is the only single, broad spectrum active. Zinc Oxide is the only ingredient that physically blocks the entire range of UVA & UVB. Look for Zinc Oxide percentages to be over 18%.

2. Use SPF 30(+), beware lower or higher numbers. It is a widely accepted that SPF 30 is the benchmark needed to provide adequate UVB protection. In FDA mandated, controlled testing, SPF 30 sunscreens filter 97% of UVB rays while SPF 50 only filters 1% more at 98% and SPF 100 would only offer 2% more at 99%. In real life setting applications it is very unlikely that filtering more than 97% of UVB rays is plausible. Furthermore, extremely high SPF claims may provide a false sense of security while possibly doubling the amount of chemicals needed in the formulas and risking excessive UVA exposure.

3. Choose ʻVery Water Resistantʼ 80 Minutes, a proven track record, and use caution with spray on products. The term Very Water Resistant is regulated by the FDA. It represents a sunscreenʼs ability to remain effective after 80 minutes exposure to water, while Water Resistant refers to 40 minutes. Waterproof and All Day Protection claims are misleading. A product that is Very Water Resistant will likely offer better sweat resistance. Ultimately, a Very Water Resistant sunscreen that has performed well for you in the past is a wise choice in the future. Use caution with spray or powder sunscreens, the applicators expel excess amounts of chemical ingredients which immediately become inhalants and pose a potential health hazard.

How To Use Sunscreen Effectively
1. Sunscreen is the last line of defense, not the first. It is imperative that a complete approach toward sun protection is used, contrary to popular belief; no sunscreen alone will keep you totally protected. It is always suggested to stay out of peak sun between the hours of 10am and 2pm, seek shade and wear protective clothing and hats. Avoid extended periods of exposure, never allow skin to sunburn and avoid a deep tan, as both UVB and UVA rays cause skin cancer.

2. Apply the correct amount. In order for sunscreen to be effective as advertised, the correct amount must be applied. The FDA regulates that all sunscreens must be SPF tested in the amount of 2mg of formula per square centimeter of skin. What this means is that an adult wearing only shorts must use one full ounce of sunscreen per application to cover all the exposed skin properly. Approximately a teaspoon size amount is needed to adequately protect the face, ears and neck. Using less than the correct amount drastically reduces the sunscreens ability to protect the skin.

!3.! Apply early, reapply often. The vast majority of sunscreens require early application, at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure to be effective. Reducing this time period will reduce the effectiveness of the sunscreen. It is imperative to reapply sunscreen often, at least every ninety minutes during long periods of sun exposure. Regardless how ʻWater Resistantʼ a formula claims to be, it is wise to reapply after any water exposure, sweating, or towel drying. Applying early and reapplying often will give the sunscreen the best chance to perform effectively.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *