A Practical Field Guide To Choosing + Using Sunscreen Effectively

by Brian A. Guadagno, Founder of Raw Elements

In February of 2019, the FDA issued its most significant proposed regulatory ruling to sunscreens in some 30 years. The overarching target of this update is ‘to bring sunscreens up to date with the latest science to better ensure consumers have access to safe and effective sun care options.” While there has been a great deal of growing concern about chemical SPF ingredients in recent years, this is a large sound off now from the FDA that they share the concern. Specifically, of the 16 approved SPF ingredients, they declared only two as GRASE (generally regarded as safe and effective). Those two are the minerals Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. The other 14 are made up of chemical UV filters, all of which have been declared either Non GRASE or no longer considered GRASE and seeking more data.

In May of 2019, the FDA released the studies that they based their safety concerns on. The studies show conclusively that common chemical sunscreen ingredients seep through the skin into the bloodstream after only a couple hours. These chemicals persist in the blood for up to seven days and exceed, by up to 40 times, the FDA allowed limits.  

While these chemical ingredients have been used in sunscreens for decades, today the FDA stands concerned for public health. “Since the initial evaluation of these products, we know much more about the effects of the sun and about sunscreen’s absorption through the skin. Sunscreen usage has changed, with more people using these products more frequently and in larger amounts. At the same time, sunscreen formulations have evolved as companies innovated. Today’s action is an important step in the FDA’s ongoing efforts to take into account modern science to ensure the safety and effectiveness of sunscreens,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. The FDA is using a 90-day period to review science submitted by industry to further evaluated before its final monograph ruling in November 2019.  

We know conclusively that SPF chemicals like oxybenzone, octinoxate and others are responsible for causing bleaching to our coral reefs. For years they have also been linked to a slew of human health issues, as they are hormone and endocrine disruptors. For summer 2019, the FDA has finally confirmed these concerns and can no longer stand behind their safety profiles. 

While this is the most significant proposed ruling, there are some others. Many felt FDA did not go far enough in restricting sprays or capping SPF numbers. Here is the summary proposal full list:

  • Only SPF ingredients mineral Zinc Oxide and mineral Titanium Dioxide are GRASE
  • Only dosage forms lotions, oils, creams, butters, sticks, sprays gels and ointments are regarded as safe and recognized. Powders are not yet. Other forms of SPF like wipes, body washes, towelettes, etc are not permitted
  • Raise max allowed SPF claim from SPF 50+ to SPF 60+
  • Requires all sunscreens over SPF 15 to meet Broad Spectrum protection requirements 
  • New label requirements to show the active Ingredients on the front label as well as skin cancer warnings on front label
  • FDA to clarify its expectations on record and test keeping for sunscreen entities
  • Bug Repellent / Sunscreen combos are not GRASE

For 2019, the FDA’s acknowledgement of the concerns with chemical sunscreen ingredients will raise awareness and ultimately help consumers become educated on what to (and what not to) look for in SPF products. Choosing the right sunscreen is critically important.  Knowing how and when to use sunscreen effectively is just as important in order to ensure the SPF protection one is seeking.

The following is a concise guide as how to choose + use sunscreen effectively in 2019.

How To Choose Sunscreen Effectively

1. Choose Broad Spectrum Non Nano Zinc Oxide protection. There are presently still 16 FDA approved active ingredients in sunscreen. While many of these offer UVB protection, only four offer any UVA protection. Zinc Oxide is the only single, broad spectrum active. Non Nano Zinc Oxide is a mineral that physically blocks the entire range of UVA & UVB. Non Nano Zinc Oxide sits on top of skin, is large enough to not absorbed as the others and is a non skin irritant. Look for Non Nano Zinc Oxide percentages to be over 18% and ideally the only active ingredient. Non Nano Zinc Oxide is reef safe.  Titanium Dioxide does not cover the full range of UVA radiation by itself. 

2. Use Broad Spectrum SPF 30, beware of lower or higher numbers. It is a widely accepted that Broad Spectrum SPF 30 is the benchmark needed to provide adequate UVB & balanced UVA protection. In FDA mandated 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 application, however, it is very unlikely that filtering more than 97% of UVB rays is plausible. Furthermore, extremely high SPF claims provide a false sense of security, double or triple the amount of chemicals and skin absorption while risking excessive UVA exposure.

3. Choose ʻWater Resistant 80 Minutesʼ, a proven track record, & avoid spray on products. The term ‘Water Resistant 80 Minutes’ is regulated by the FDA. It represents a sunscreenʼs ability to remain effective after 80 minutes exposure to water. ‘Waterproof’ and ‘All Day Protection’ claims are misleading and not allowed.  A product that is Water Resistant 80 Minutes will likely offer better sweat resistance as well. Ultimately, a Water Resistant 80 Minutes sunscreen that has performed well for you in the past is a wise choice in the future. Avoid sprays or powder sunscreens at all costs.  These applicators expel excess amounts of chemical ingredients which immediately become lung inhalants and pose a health hazard.  Additionally, these chemicals go airborne and indiscriminately pollute the environment.  Furthermore it is nearly impossible to determine the correct dosage application and quite often skin coverage is not effective.  

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 more than enough. 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.  Apply enough to leave an even, visible film over desired coverage area, then rub in to the desired look.

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.  Non Nano Zinc Oxide, as a physical barrier is effective the moment it is evenly applied to the skin. 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.

 

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