By Dr. Scott Davidson
We have all heard that we need to protect our skin from the damaging rays of the sun. In fact, each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, and colon.
But a trip to the sunscreen section of your local drugstore can leave you reeling from abbreviation overload. UVA? UVB? What happened to plain old SPF? The new ratings and terminology can be a little confusing, but it means you get more information about effective skin protection.
The old SPF, or sun protection factor, didn’t give us the whole picture. The testing only measured protection against UVB rays. Today, we know that there are two kinds of harmful ultraviolet rays: UVA, which cause premature aging of the skin and are used in tanning beds, and UVB, which cause sunburns. Both play a role in the development of skin cancer.
The Food and Drug Administration has proposed new guidelines for the marketing of over-the-counter products containing sunscreen beginning this summer. The FDA is requiring companies to be more accountable and transparent in the marketing of their products. And that’s good news for consumers.
Products now have to undergo successful testing to claim they offer “broad-spectrum sun protection” (protection against both UVA and UVB rays), and will be allowed to state they help reduce the risk of cancer and early skin aging only if they contain SPF 15 or higher.
They also have to include water-resistance times — or how long the product should last during swimming or sweating — as well as be more conservative in the product’s claims. For example, companies are no longer allowed to call their products “sunblock,” “sweatproof,” or “waterproof,” which overstates their effectiveness.
It also should be noted that a sunscreen drug product that is promoted for use as a combined sunscreen/insect repellant is not effective.
4 ways to protect your skin
- Cover up. Even when it is hot, lightweight, breathable clothing can keep you cool and your skin safe.
- Wear a hat. Choose one that shields your head and shoulders from the sun.
- Apply sunscreen correctly. Use about 2 tablespoons, and apply 20 to 30 minutes prior to going outdoors. I recommend an SPF 30 or higher. Evenly cover your body, from head to toe. Reapply at least every 2 hours, more often if you’re swimming or sweating.
- Limit exposure. Seek the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest.
Scott Davidson, M.D. is a surgical oncologist with Northside Hospital Cancer Institute and Melanoma & Sarcoma Specialists of Georgia. Visit builttobeatcancer.com for more information.