By Richard L. Peatman, Pharm.D., Meadow Vista Pharmacy
The FDA has changed the rules for sunscreens. In new regulations, the term “Broad Spectrum” will be used for products that protect from both UVB and UVA and have a SPF of 15 or higher. The goal of the FDA was to encourage more protection against skin cancer. The labeling changes include: 1. Products that are SPF 2 to 14 must be labeled “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert “This product has been shown only to prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.” 2. Only two times may be listed for water resistant products: 40 minutes or 80 minutes. 3. Manufacturers cannot label products as waterproof or sweat proof.
Remember, severe sunburns can put you at greater risk for melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. But the sun isn't the only culprit. Tanning devices like sunlamps used in tanning beds are more dangerous than previously thought. A few years ago, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) looked at 19 studies conducted over 25 years. It found a link between indoor tanning and two kinds of skin cancer, as well as melanoma of the eye. The risk of skin melanoma increased by 75 percent when indoor tanning began before age 35. As a result, the agency moved these devices into the highest cancer risk category: "carcinogenic to humans." Remember, you are at special risk if you have pale skin; blond, red or light brown hair, or you or a family member has had skin cancer. Melanoma is the second most common cancer in women in their 20s. One in eight with melanoma will die from the disease.
So, besides avoiding tanning salons, what can you do? Take precautions, whether you're at the poolside or on the ski slopes. If you can, limit time in the sun when rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm. Wear wide-brimmed hats, long sleeves, and long pants, when possible. Use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF. Be sure to apply sunscreen to areas of uncovered skin about 15 minutes before you go outside. Pay special attention to your nose, ears, neck, lips, and hands. Reapply, after two hours. If you have a child younger than 6 months, talk with the doctor. Also check the cosmetics you're using. Some make you more sensitive to UV rays.
And don't forget about protecting your eyes. Buy sunglasses with 99 to 100 percent UV protection even for your kids. If you're not sure whether yours offer this protection, check with your eye care professional.