Is your sunscreen safe? FDA will enforce new packaging regulations this June

By Crystalee Beck

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, June 5 2012 3:20 p.m. MDT

Devon Garrison plays in the pool at the clubhouse of his sub-division in Montgomery, Ala., Tuesday, June 14, 2011. Garrison wears sunscreen with an SPF factor of 100. Federal regulators will require sunscreen manufacturers to test their products' effectiveness against sun rays that pose the greatest risk of skin cancer. Under new rules, manufacturers also will have to follow stricter guidelines when describing how well their products block ultraviolet B rays.

Dave Martin, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

This June the Federal Drug Administration will enforce new sunscreen packaging regulations aimed at making it easier to pick out safe sun protection products. According to the FDA's online Consumer Update, the steps will help "protect consumers from skin damage caused by excessive sun exposure."

With temperatures rising, sun bathers and outdoor enthusiasts should beware of harmful ingredients found in many sunscreens. According to a recent CNN article, only "25 percent of 800 tested sunscreens" are safe.

The article referenced the 2012 Sunscreen Guide, released by the Environmental Working Group in mid-May. To make the safe list, sunscreens must be “free of oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate (a type of vitamin A), not have SPF above 50 and protect against UVA and UVB sunrays.”

“I would agree with that,” said Sancy Leachman, director of the Melanoma and Cutaneous Oncology program at the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

As one who helps skin cancer and melanoma patients, Leachman considers herself “very conservative” when it comes to sun protection.

She added that the “safest and best sunscreen ingredients” include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Unlike many sun protectants, both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide act as physical barriers that bounce off light energy and deflect it. A harmless additive, zinc oxide is a long-standing ingredient in diaper creams and is present in food products.

“In my own family, I make sure all the sunscreens contain either zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or both. Those are the two safest ingredients, and they block both UVA and UVB rays,” said Leachman. “No other active chemical ingredients.”

To protect her children from sunburns, Leachman looks for SPF 25-30 and will accept a higher SPF — but not anything less than SPF 25.

According to OneMedical.com, SPF stands for "Sun Protection Factor," and “refers to the theoretical amount of time you can stay in the sun without getting sunburned. For example, an SPF of 15 would allow you to stay in the sun 15 times longer than you could without protection.”

Leachman pointed out that SPF only includes UVB, the sunburn-causing rays, and not UVA rays. Both UVB and UVA rays can cause cancer.

“Even a 10 million SPF sunscreen would not block UVA because it’s a different wavelength,” explained Leachman. “You can’t see or feel UVA, and it won’t give you sunburn. But it does age your skin, causing things like wrinkles.”

She adds that getting a true SPF coverage means making sure skin is getting completely covered, which often takes more than one application.

“It's like when painting a wall to the best of your ability — you’ll still come back and see parts you didn’t cover. If you add another coat, you have full coverage.”

5 Sunscreen Savvy Tips

• Look for zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as active ingredients

• Avoid oxybenzone or retinyl palmitate (a type of vitamin A)

• Seek sunscreens that protect against UVA and UVB rays

• Use SPF 25 or higher but less than SPF 50

• Apply at least two coats for full SPF coverage

Crystalee Beck is a writer, marketer, and traveler who lives with her husband in Ogden. Follow @Crystaleelee on Twitter or email delightedtowrite@gmail.com.

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