Cutting Through The SPF Label
A Practical Field Guide To Choosing & Using Sunscreen Effectively
by: Brian A. Guadagno - CEO, Raw Elements USA
2015 will ensure all sunscreens on the US shelves will carry the newly required FDA labeling changes. Along with labeling changes, the manner in which sunscreens are tested and are required to perform in regards to broad spectrum protection has changed. Additionally, The Sunscreen Innovation Act has been passed which could allow some new chemical sunscreen ingredients to enter the marketplace in the back half of the year. With label claims, ingredient listings and testing translations being so confusing, it is important for consumers to understand how to make their selections. The greatest challenge for consumers is how to go about choosing and even more importantly, how to go about using sunscreen effectively. Understanding background on UV rays and how they effect the skin is an important place to start.
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 a key contributor toward 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. There may be contributing factors which come into play that do 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. Broad Spectrum protection refers to a product’s ability to effectively mitigate the harmful effects of both UVB and UVA rays. Under the new FDA regulations, a product marked ‘Broad Spectrum’ will now be mandated to filter a required amount of UVA relative to its SPF (UVB) claim. One crucial point most consumers are unaware of is this: The manner and amount of sunscreen the consumer applies will dramatically affect sunscreen performance. It is critical to seek sunscreens that contain active ingredients which provide broad spectrum protection and just as critical to be certain apply and reapply properly.
How To Choose Sunscreen Effectively
1. Choose Broad Spectrum Zinc Oxide 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 any UVA protection. Zinc Oxide is the only single, broad spectrum active. Zinc Oxide is the only ingredient that physically blocks the entire range of UVA & UVB. Zinc Oxide sits on top of skin and is not absorbed as the others and is a non skin irritant. Look for Zinc Oxide percentages to be over 18% if Zinc Oxide is the only active.
2. Use SPF 30(+), beware of 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 a real life setting, however, 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 chemical skin absorption needed in the formulas and risking excessive UVA exposure.
3. Choose ʻVery Water Resistantʼ, 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 no longer allowed. 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. Furthermore it is nearly impossible to determine the correct does application.
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 and the SPF claim will not be met.
3. Apply early, reapply often. The vast majority of chemical 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 eighty 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.