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FDA Sheds Light on Sunscreen Labeling

FDA Sheds Light on Sunscreen Labeling

Austin Photo Set: News_Jennifer Walden_sunscreen_August 2011

Friendly Texans who sit by the pool or beach applying sunscreen, you have been led to believe by sunscreen companies that you are being shielded from the sun’s harmful rays.  Well, here's the skinny on the recent news that most sunscreens aren’t nearly as effective as claimed.

Choosing a sunscreen can be quite confusing with the variety of products on the market. But earlier this month,  the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took action to educate the public on sunscreen labeling, and set in motion new rules to identify products that have the best protection against the sun. The FDA is taking strides to put an end to claims that the products are completely “waterproof” as well.

The FDA’s rules, which will be implemented in a year, will require sunscreens to offer both UVA and UVB protection in order to be labeled “broad spectrum.” Only broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher will be identified as a product that can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. Sunscreens with an SPF between 2 and 14, whether they’re broad spectrum or not, can only claim to help prevent sunburn; even then your likelihood of burning heavily depends upon your skin-type and genetics.  The new rules will also prevent manufacturers from saying their sunscreens are waterproof or sweat-proof as these terms are misleading. Manufacturers can claim a sunblock is water resistant, but only after testing the product to identify how many minutes it remains effective when a person is swimming or sweating. The amount of time a product is water resistant can (and hopefully will) be put on the label.

For everyone in that hot Austin sun, it is important to educate yourself on warning signs of skin cancer or pre-cancerous lesions!   Remember to perform self-examination of the skin, nails, and mucous membranes — such as the nostrils, eyelids and ears — for a non-healing sore, new or persistently changing mole or freckle, or a persistent red bump or scaling patch that could be a skin cancer, including melanoma (see below). Interestingly, most melanomas of the skin occur in relatively sun-protected sites, including the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, nail beds, and mucous membranes so they aren’t prevented by applications of sunscreens.  With the FDA’s new rules, the public will have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t in regard to sunscreens, and we can all become more knowledgeable about skin cancer in the process. In a place like Texas with the sun beating down on us every day, it could save a life!  There's a myriad of products out there, so check out Consumer Reports rankings of the best sunscreens.

Mole or melanoma?

Healthy moles are usually small, one color, and circular or oval, with a well-defined border. Suspicious moles tend to have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Asymmetry (one half is unlike the other)
  • Border (irregular, scalloped, undefined)
  • Color (varies, but often shades of tan, black, brown; sometimes white, red, or blue)
  • Diameter (larger than a pencil eraser)
  • Evolving (changing in color, shape, size)