Are Most Sunscreens Really that Helpful?

Who hasn't heard this familiar refrain: "Be sure to put on a thick layer of sunscreen before you go out into the sun"? Whether you've heard it from your parents, your doctor, or even that so-called health expert on TV, the need to wear sunscreen to protect your skin is a mantra that has been firmly ingrained into our heads since early childhood. And while that may be true in principle, the problem is that too many sunscreen manufacturers haven't been holding up their part of the bargain by selling products that actually protect you.

Indeed, a rash of recent studies has shown that labels on several popular brands are not only misleading and confusing but, in some cases, completely false. After testing 786 name-brand sunscreens to gauge their stated UVA protection, potential health hazards and stability in sunlight, the Environmental Working Group determined that only 17% of them provide good protection and minimal risks. In addition, the study revealed that 50% of the tested products made claims that would be considered misleading under the FDA's draft sunscreen safety standards.One major problem may be the fact that most sunscreens don't actually protect against UVA rays (which have been linked to premature aging and skin cancer), despite their claims of doing so. And while the FDA does regulate the sunscreen industry, it's still using archaic standards that haven't updated since their implementation in 1978. The result: though our knowledge about skin cancer and the harmful nature of UVA rays has jumped by leaps and bounds over the last three decades, the standards for SPF haven't.

"Unfortunately, many people don't realize that SPF is for UVB only. You simply can't apply it to both. It would distort the numbers because UVB is thousands of time more stronger than UVA," said Dr. Norman Price, a dermatologist. A recent poll showed that 69% of Americans wrongly believed that government standards required SPF protection against UVA rays.

Fortunately (though somewhat belatedly), the FDA is finally set to reveal updated guidelines for how it plans to assess a sunscreen's level of UVA protection, how to ameliorate label accuracy and whether or not to limit SPF at 30. Not a moment too soon, says Dr. Jeffrey Bortz, a dermatologist. "All of this is very confusing. It's time for the FDA to step in and clarify this better for the consumer," he said.

Be sure to check out the full article (linked below) for a complete list of common misperceptions and suggestions on how to ensure you're adequately protected.

Via ::Contra Costa Times: Sunscreen exposed (newspaper)

See also: ::What Lies Beneath a "Healthy Skin" product, ::UV Hawk Ultraviolet Sunlight Meter, ::Kelp Phlorotannins: Sunscreen and Boat Paint