Tuesday, June 14, 2011

FDA sets sights on regulating sunscreen

I know it's odd that I am so passionate about sunscreen, but it is something that is important to me for many reasons. The first is that I have grown up with a mom who used to slather us in sunscreen before we went outside. I will be thankful to her in 20 years when I'm not covered in wrinkles or skin cancer (even though as a kid it used to drive me crazy! The 5 minutes it took was an eternity in kid time).

 My brother and I all slathered in sunscreen. 

Here is the perfect proof of my mom's sunscreen applications. At first glance it looks like my mom put zinc on me... No, its some sort of white diaper rash cream... Whatever works I guess. I never got burned with it on, and it stayed on pretty well in the pool. I am also wearing a shirt that I will be swimming in in a matter of seconds after I sit through this photo. 

I also burn very easily, even when I slather on the sunscreen. The third reason is that I have spent the last 5 summers of my life in the sun every single day as a lifeguard. I worry that even though I think I'm protecting myself, the sunscreen I put on is really letting me down, and I will not know until I develop skin cancer years later. 

Thats why this morning when I read the New York Times article "F.D.A Unveils New Rules About Sunscreen Claims" which said that the FDA is setting new rules for sunscreens, including making them protect equally against both UVB and UVA rays, I couldn't wait to share it:
"After 33 years of consideration, the Food and Drug Administration took steps on Tuesday to sort out the confusing world of sunscreens, with new rules that specify which lotions provide the best protection against the sun and ending claims that they are truly waterproof. 
The F.D.A. said sunscreens must protect equally against two kinds of the sun’s radiation, UVB and UVA, to earn the coveted designation of offering “broad spectrum” protection. UVB rays cause burning; UVA rays cause wrinkling; and both cause cancer.
The rules, which go into effect in a year, will also ban sunscreen manufacturers from claiming their products are waterproof or sweatproof because such claims are false. Instead, they will be allowed to claim in minutes the amount of time in which the product is water resistant, depending upon test results.
And only sunscreens that have a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 15 or higher will be allowed to maintain that they help prevent sunburn and reduce the risks of skin cancer and early skin aging."
The article also says that the FDA has not decided if it will stand up against companies claiming "SPF numbers of 70, 80 and 100 even though such lotions offer little more protection than those with an SPF of 50." Because more people are more aware of skin damage and the need to protect our skin, many sunscreen companies have been playing off of our fear and selling us products that promise us the world, but do not actually offer us much. 

The article also states that many researchers have not found a value in an SPF over 50:
"“Right now, we don’t have any data to show that anything above 50 adds any value for anybody,” Dr. Woodcock said.
Dr. Warwick L. Morison, a professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins University and chairman of the photobiology committee for the Skin Cancer Foundation, said he was disappointed that the F.D.A. failed to ban SPF numbers higher than 50 because such products expose people to more irritating sunscreen ingredients without meaningful added protection.
“It’s pointless,” Dr. Morison said.
More than two million people in the United States are treated each year for the two most common types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell, and more than 68,000 receive a diagnosis of melanoma, the most deadly form of the disease. Sunscreens have not been shown to prevent the first case of basal cell carcinoma, but they delay reoccurrences of basal cell and have been shown to prevent squamous cell and melanoma."
One of the things that slightly disappoints me is that it seems like the argument is about semantics rather than doing full scale research on whether or not properly using sunscreen is protecting us. Or if the chemicals used in it are only making things worse. My hope, however, is that some of these arguments, even if they are just about word choice, will help people better chose their sun protection and better understand what a sunscreen actually does- extend the amount of time you can be in the sun without experiencing a sunburn instead of just expecting it to be a "screen" or an impermeable protection.

Even though the rules aren't perfect yet, I'm still excited about them! It is definite progress from the 30 years of silence from the FDA on the issue. I cannot wait to see how these will affect next year's sunscreen companies summer battle to claim they are better than every other company. I am also interested in seeing how these rules will guide consumers on how to best protect themselves.

Even with the new regulations on the way, if you see me outside (sun or fog for those of us who live on the coast : ) ) I will be the one in the hat and the lightweight long sleeve shirt wearing my best human and environment friendly sunscreen. 

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