Sunscreen 101

By • Published: September 29th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Recall the days when a dark tan was a fabulous thing to have? Gleaming, oiled sun-worshiping bodies would line beaches and pools, absorbing every ray they could.

Not so anymore. These days, all that exposure to the sun is like playing a game of Russian roulette with skin cancer.

After all, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with more than 1 million new cases each year.

Most of us know the routine and dutifully slather or spray our bodies to protect ourselves, making sure we wait at least 20 minutes so we reach maximum protection.

That might not be enough, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group. Researchers assessed 500 sunscreens currently on the market and deemed only 39 effective.

That’s primarily due to a lag in industry regulations, which results in the SPF rating a sunscreen states often falling short of what the product is able to provide. The FDA states that any SPF claim above 50 can’t be substantiated.

Even if the high SPF rating is accurate, there can be other problems. Using a sunscreen with a high SPF often makes people think they are invincible, so they remain in the sun longer, which increases the risk of skin cancer and skin damage.

Also, the amount of sunscreen most people apply typically falls short of what they need to get the protection the label promises. In most instances, only a quarter of the recommended amount is actually used. So a product sporting a SPF of 30 under-applied equates to a SPF protection of 2. Ouch. Sunburn here we come.

So what’s a body to do? Use sunscreen, but check the product label. The 39 sunscreens that rated high all had the minerals zinc or titanium. And even if you use a sunscreen, limit sun exposure by using hats, clothing and good ol’ shade.