By Wally Kennedy
Jana Richardson pays close attention to the numbers on her sunscreen.
“I use a 30 (Sun Protection Factor or SPF 30) on my face and ears,’’ she said, while slathering on a creamy sunscreen Monday afternoon at Ewert Family Aquatic Center in Joplin. “I use a lesser number where I want color.’’
As an adult, this Joplin resident makes sure she gets some measure of protection from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun.
But did she get sunscreen when she was a youngster?
“I don’t think so. That was in the 70s and 80s,’’ she said. “I know it’s important now and I have made sure my children have had it since they were small.’’
Perceptions about the need for sunscreen have changed significantly over the years. In the 1970s and 1980s, baby oil was a preferred topical treatment. Today, concerns of an aging population and growing worries about skin cancer have created a domestic market for sunscreens that tops $680 million annually.
On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced new sunscreen guidelines to help consumers, although the actual changes won’t be implemented for six months to give manufacturers time to make labeling and other changes. Still, consumers may begin to see some changes to some sunscreen labels on the shelves now.
Initially, the FDA told manufacturers they had until this month to revise their labels to distinguish brands that could be labeled as “broad spectrum,” meaning they protect against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVB radiation is primarily responsible for sunburn, but UVA radiation also increases the risk of skin cancer and early skin-aging effects.
The new guidelines also tighten up the regulations for companies that claim their sunscreen is sweatproof or waterproof, and must alert users when they should reapply the products.
According to the FDA, up to one-third of the most popular sunscreen lotions on the market might not adequately protect against skin cancer. Common phrases used on sunscreen products, such as “sunblock,” “waterproof” and “prevents skin cancer” are no longer permitted.
Stephanie Yao, public affairs spokeswoman for the FDA, on Monday said, “The 2011 Sunscreen Final Rule establishes a standard for labeling sunscreen products and a test method to demonstrate that a sunscreen product provides ‘broad spectrum’ protection.
“Only broad spectrum SPF 15 or higher sunscreens have been demonstrated to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging,’’ she said. “Only products demonstrated through testing to meet the rule’s broad spectrum requirements will be permitted to make the broad spectrum claims.’’
After reviewing the timeline, Yao said the FDA concluded that although some manufactures have already implemented the new testing and labeling requirements for some products, others would needed more time.
“Extending the compliance date would reduce the risk of having large quantities of peak ‘sun season’ inventory to be out of compliance with the final rule once the compliance deadline takes effect,” she added.
Skin cancer rates
The new guidelines are welcomed by Dr. Derek Towery, a Joplin dermatologist.
“I think they are going help make the labeling a little clearer,’’ he said. “You will truly know whether it is broad spectrum for both UVA and UVB rays. It also will limit the claims about a sunscreen being waterproof and sweatproof. The labeling will be more reflective of the truth.
“I have always advocated an SPF 15 or 30 replied every two hours as adequate.’’
Between the years 1992 and 2005, rates of melanoma — the most dangerous type of skin cancer— nearly doubled.
Towery said the increase in skin cancer is “across the board, including the 20- to 40-year-old age group. We are seeing a lot more in people under 40 than we used to.’’
Towery also said there is an ongoing debate in the dermatological community about whether “we are screening better, looking for it more, or it’s a true incidence increase. Folks make the claims both ways.’’
Katie Rickey, a 16-year-old lifeguard at Ewert, is taking no chances and her employer is making sure she doesn’t.
“I use a 50 SPF that says its waterproof. I apply it every couple of hours,’’ she said. “They make us keep a log of how often we use it.’’
To help consumers select and use sunscreens appropriately, the final U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations include these labeling provisions:
* Sunscreen products that are not broad spectrum or that are broad spectrum with SPF values from 2 to 14 will be labeled with a warning that reads: “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”
* Water resistance claims on the product’s front label must tell how much time a user can expect to get the declared SPF level of protection while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing. Two times will be permitted on labels: 40 minutes or 80 minutes.
* Manufacturers cannot make claims that sunscreens are waterproof or sweatproof or identify their products as sunblocks. Also, sunscreens cannot claim instant protection upon application or protection for more than two hours without reapplication, unless they submit data and get approval from FDA.
Reducing the risk
Spending time in the sun increases the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. To reduce the risk, consumers should regularly use sun protection measures including:
* Sunscreens with broad spectrum SPF values of 15 or higher applied regularly and as directed.
* Limit time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense.
* Wear clothing to cover skin exposed to the sun; for example, long-sleeved shirts, pants, sunglasses, and broad-brimmed hats.
* Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, more often if you’re sweating or jumping in and out of the water.