By June 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has required sunscreen manufacturers to change the labels on their products.
Brands boasting of SPF 80, SPF 110 or more will no longer be allowed to do so. Instead, they’ll have to make do with the label, SPF "50 plus."
False sense of security = risky behavior
The FDA's ban on SPF claims greater than 50 is based on several studies revealing that consumers falsely believe that the higher the SPF, the longer they may expose themselves to the sun.
This inaccurate notion has led to risky behavior in the general public, eventually leading to more cases of skin cancer.
Dr. Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor in dermatology at the New York University Medical Center says "An increase in SPF from 30 to 50 has only a one percent increase in protection against the harmful rays of the sun."
High SPF protects only a fraction of what’s claimed
A study conducted by his team revealed that "products promising an SPF protection of 50 rarely provide an SPF of 15 in real-life settings,” Dr. Rigel says. “A sunscreen labeled as SPF 70 and 100 only gave a level of protection of 30."
This has been a long time debate among dermatologists, the FDA and companies producing these popular products.
Dr. Rigel adds that this new FDA ruling may discourage research and manufacturing companies from making a "better" sunscreen. They will have no incentive to produce a superior product since they will not receive credit for their work anyway.
Tips on how to protect yourself from the sun
Here are a few tips on how to protect yourself from the sun:
1. All skin types, colors, ages need sunscreen. More than 3.5 million people have skin cancer.
2. When your shadow is shorter than you, sunscreen is not enough. Get under the shade or wear protective clothing like a hat, long sleeved shirts or umbrellas.
3. Wear sunscreen daily even if you’re not in the beach. Eighty percent of UV rays can still pass through even on a cloudy day. Sand and water increases the sun's reflection by 25 percent.
4. Use sunscreen on all areas not covered by clothing. One ounce or a one shot glass is the ideal amount to cover all the exposed parts of the body. Therefore an 8-ounce bottle of sunscreen should last only for 8 applications. Using less than one ounce still puts you at risk for skin cancer.
5. Allow the sunscreen to dry for 15 minutes before going outdoors.
6. Re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours after swimming or sweating. No matter what the bottle says, sunscreen is NOT waterproof.
7. Know what type of sunscreen works best for you. Different types are ideal for different areas of the body.
Creams for face and dry skin.
Gels for hairy areas like men's chests especially baby's scalp.
Sticks for areas around the eyes.
Sprays are ideal and easier to apply on children.
8. Be aware of the expiration date. A sunscreen loses its protection after three years. Don't feel bad about throwing out a bottle that is half-full. The damage it can cause is not worth the extra pesos you spend on a new one.
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Have a medical question for the Blogging Doc? Drop her a line at www.filipinamd.com.
Dr. Diana Sarmiento is a mother of three, part-time doctor, and a full-time wife and mother. The topics closest to her heart are women’s health, parenting, and any new information that she can get her hands on.