Are You Using Sunscreen Effectively?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced new regulations for sunscreen labels to emphasize protection against both UV-A and UV-B radiation; however, a new report shows that only 43 percent of people surveyed understand the definition of the sun protection factor (SPF).

study, published in a research letter online by the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology, found that most patients had purchased sunscreen in 2013 and preventing sunburns was an important factor for why they wore sunscreen, followed by preventing skin cancer. The three top factors influencing patients’ decisions to purchase a particular sunscreen were highest SPF value, sensitive skin formulation, and water and sweat resistance.

However, fewer than half of participants could correctly identify terminology on a label that indicated how well the sunscreen protected against skin cancer, photoaging and sunburns.

“Despite the recent changes in labeling mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this survey study suggests that the terminology on sunscreen labels may still be confusing to consumers,” the study concluded.

Rebecca Dunn, a dermatology physician assistant at Ogden Clinic, said new labels on sunscreen were put into place to avoid giving people a false sense of security in regards to sun protection. They have changed labels from “water-proof” to “water-resistant” and have included broad spectrum on labels now which indicate if the sunscreen covers again UVA and UVB. SPFs of 15 or lower must also now include a warning label in regards to skin cancer: “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”

Dunn said skin cancer rates in Utah are above the national average and continue to increase each year.

According to the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, it is estimated that one American dies every hour from skin cancer. Each year, there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancer of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.

Dunn said sun protection is a very critical aspect of skin cancer and photoaging prevention. There are numerous newer products on the market tailored to a specific need.

“The recommended ingredients in a sunscreen are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. You should look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 to 50,” Dunn said. “There are many newer formulations of sunscreens now on the market, many of which contain organic products which can lead to less irritation as well as light-weight formulations better for under make-ups. There are even powder forms of sunscreen.”

Many dermatologists even sell specific sunscreens which can be used in individuals with certain skin conditions such as acne and eczema, Dunn said.

“You should reapply every two hours when out in the sun. If you are in and out of the water and toweling off, or sweating during an activity, the sunscreen should then be reapplied every hour,” she said. “Other critical items included in sun protection are sun protective clothing, protective eyewear, preferably sun glasses with polarized lenses, and a wide-brimmed hat.”

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