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The New FDA Sunscreen Regulations and Effective Skin Cancer Protection

By (view all posts by SavingsIQ)
at 9:56AM Monday June 20, 2011
under Newsworthy

I hope all of you are avid users of sunscreen and at the very least use it on your face daily. In a recent article taken from the SF Gate, it was reported that the FDA is changing the standards of how SPF is determined. Currently, SPF only refers to UVB rays (causes sunburn) and not UVA rays (causes skin cancer). Sound confusing? It is.

Most sunscreens in the U.S. market claim to protect against both types of damaging rays, but really don't. In fact, 20% of the products here can't be sold in Europe because their UVA standards are so strict and have been in place for many years. Why is the U.S. behind, considering our rates of melanoma have gone up 50% from 1994 to 2004?

Don't worry, you can take steps to minimize damage to your skin. There are two types of sunscreen our there, physical and chemical.

Physical does what it says, providing a physical barrier on your skin against the rays. Usually marketed as "sunblock," these lotions contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and are typically hard to apply while leaving a white film on your skin. Both ingredients are helpful in protecting against UVB and most UVA rays. The biggest advantage of physical sunscreens is their lack of chemicals which makes them good for people who break out easily.

Chemical sunscreens operate by absorbing the harmful rays of the sun before letting them penetrate your skin. They contain a ton of chemicals and some worry that these chemicals may cause free radicals in your skin, thereby aging you. However, avobenzone provides full coverage of UVA rays which is a huge plus. Chemical sunscreens in general offer a broader shield against both UVA and UVB rays, but may cause allergic reactions in some people.

I'm scared of wrinkles and skin cancer so facial sunscreen is a must have in my daily skincare routine. It's easy for me because I just use a moisturizer that comes with SPF 15. That way I don't have to use two different lotions. Aveeno Positively Radiant SPF 15 is my standard daily concoction since I spend the majority of the day inside an office. However, if I'm going to be outside I use an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen all over.

I'm not a fan of physical sunscreens and usually buy Neutrogena Ultra Sheer SPF 45 (chemical) because I like how it goes on smoothly and doesn't smell. So far, I've been pretty good about re-applying every two hours or so. I've gotten a few burns before from NOT reapplying and definitely don't want to go through that again.

Which brings me to SPF and the confusing numbers. What does SPF really mean?

Well, SPF stands for sun protection factor and relates to how much UV rays it takes to burn your skin when it's unprotected versus when it has sunscreen. However, SPF 15 does not mean it's 15 times the amount of time you can spend in the sun without burning. SPF takes into consideration not just the duration of your time in the sun, but also the amount of the sun exposure. You must also factor in the intensity of the sun. Sunlight is more intense in the afternoon around 12 and 1 pm than at 8 or 9 am in the morning. SPF 15 screens out 93% of UVB, while SPF 30 screens out 97%. So, keep in mind that the SPF on the tube is just a general guideline for the level of protection you are getting. And, SPF 100? Don't bother. Anything past 50 is pretty much a 1% difference in overall UV protection. Save your money and go for a lesser SPF.

Some effective sunscreens that won't damage your wallet can be found at Target, Trader Joe's and even online at Amazon. Yes, you can find almost everything on the internet.

I've used Target's own Up and Up line of sunscreen and think it's comparable to the more expensive Neutrogena brand. You can get two spray bottles for $8.84.

What are some sunscreens you can't live without? Do you prefer physical or chemical and why?