Which Sunscreen Is Best?

Which Sunscreen is Best?Most of us know that wearing sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect our skin from damaging UV rays and prevent skin cancer. But with the plethora of sunscreen options out there, choosing a sunscreen can be more complicated than it should be. If you feel overwhelmed by the seemingly limitless SPF and UV protection options, not to worry! A recent New York Times article addressed changes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered sunscreen companies to incorporate into future product labeling.

As the occurrence of melanomas and other skin cancers continue to rise, awareness around proper use of sunscreen is more important now than ever. Approximately one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, making it the most common type of cancer in the United States. The three forms of skin cancer are distinguished by the types of cells affected: melanoma, basal cell and squamous cell. The most dangerous form of skin cancer is melanoma; however, if caught early, it can be treated.

To prevent the misuse and confusion caused by misreading of sunscreen labels, the FDA has mandated that the following be included on every sunscreen product:

  • Listing of “broad spectrum protection,” meaning the sunscreen has been proved to protect against both UVA and UVB rays
  • Any product with an SPF lower than 15 must carry a label warning that it will not protect against skin cancer
  • Products cannot claim to be waterproof, only water-resistant, and labels must note a time limit before the sunscreen is ineffective
  • Manufacturers can still sell sunscreens with SPFs that exceed 50; however, the FDA is evaluating whether or not they should remain on the market

According to the New York Times article, the FDA also warns against the use of sunscreen sprays and powders, stating that there is not enough data to support the efficacy of these products on preventing sun damage, and that consumers should be cautious of products with endorsements and seals of approval, as this typically means the manufacturer has donated money to become an endorsed member of an organization.

In a past online live chat hosted by Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, Winship dermatologist, Suephy Chen, MD, addressed some frequently asked questions around the topic of sunscreen use and skin cancer prevention. One major takeaway from the chat: sunscreen should be applied every day, especially for people who have experienced sunburns or used tanning beds in the past. “The amount of sunscreen you use during the first (whole body) application of the day should be enough to fill a standard sized shot glass,” says Dr. Chen. She goes on to advise that “sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours or after you’ve perspired and/or have gotten in and out of the water.”

Remember, skin cancer is generally treatable if detected early. All the more reason to slop on the SPF! And if you haven’t done so lately, give your body a quick scan, and repeat this practice at least once a month. Get to know the pattern of your moles, spots, freckles, and other marks on your skin. If you notice any new moles or changes in shape or color to existing ones, please contact your healthcare provider.

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