She's young, but Ellen Miller is nonetheless concerned about aging.
Plus, she's had skin cancer, said Miller, the beauty director for Shape magazine, during a recent phone interview from Texas.
"My thought has always been the higher the better, it can't hurt," Miller said about sunscreens and SPF.
But there's more to it than that.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration is trying to make buying sunscreens simpler for consumers. Recently, the FDA announced standards for testing the products' effectiveness and requiring more accurate labeling.
Products that pass the test will provide protection against ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) and ultraviolet A radiation (UVA), the FDA states on its website.
Sunburn is primarily caused by UVB, but UVB and UVA rays can cause sunburn and skin cancer, said Dr. Christina Kendrick of Tulsa Dermatology Clinic. UVA is a longer wavelength, so it penetrates deeper into the skin.
It also causes more problems with wrinkles and brown spots, Kendrick said.
Under the new regulations, sunscreen products that protect against all types of sun-induced skin damage will be labeled "broad spectrum" and "SPF 15" (or higher) on the front, the FDA stated.
The new labeling will also tell consumers on the back of the product that sunscreens labeled as broad spectrum and SPF 15 (or higher) not only protect against sunburn, but also, if used as directed with other sun protection measures, can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.
For such products, higher SPF values also indicate higher levels of overall protection.
By contrast, any sunscreen not labeled as broad spectrum or that has an SPF value between 2 and 14 has only been shown to help prevent sunburn.
To help consumers select and use sunscreens appropriately, the final regulations include these additional 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 protection immediately on application (for example, "instant protection") or protection for more than two hours without reapplication, unless they submit data and get approval from the FDA.
Use sunscreens with broad spectrum SPF values of 15 or higher 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.
A decent proposal
In addition to the final regulations, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is proposing one that would require sunscreen products that have SPF values higher than 50 to be labeled as "SPF 50+."
The FDA does not have adequate data demonstrating that products with SPF values higher than 50 provide additional protection compared to products with SPF values of 50.
The FDA is requesting data and information on different dosage forms of sunscreen products. The agency currently considers sunscreens in the form of oils, creams, lotions, gels, butters, pastes, ointments, sticks and sprays to be eligible for marketing without individual product approvals.
Wipes, towelettes, powders, body washes and shampoo cannot be marketed without an approved application.
For sunscreen spray products, the agency requests additional data to establish effectiveness and to determine whether they present a safety concern if inhaled unintentionally.
These requests arise because sprays are applied differently from other sunscreen dosage forms, such as lotions and sticks.
FDA is also issuing a draft guidance to help sunscreen manufacturers understand how to label and test their products in light of the final and proposed regulations and the data request on dosage forms.
What's the best sunscreen?
Find one that has broad-spectrum coverage - providing protection from UVA and UVB rays.
Our favorites: Coppertone Sport Clear Continuous Spray Sunscreen SPF 30 and Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizer with SPF 15.
How and when to apply sunscreen
Even if you're using SPF 50, you might not be using it correctly.
One of Dr. Christina Kendrick's concerns at Tulsa Dermatology Clinic is that her patients are using high SPFs and thinking that they don't have to apply as often.
That isn't true, she warned. When applying sunscreen, use an ounce, or about a golfball-sized amount, and apply at least every two hours.
You should also apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes before getting out in the sun.
If you apply it right before you venture outside, that's 15 minutes you'll be damaging your skin, said Ellen Miller, beauty director for Shape magazine.
It's a year-round habit to make, too.
"It's not just sunburns you have to worry about," Miller reminded. "It's the cumulative effect, those 15 minutes at a time, every day of your life, that ups your risk of skin cancer."
That's what makes your skin look weathered and causes fine lines and sagging, Miller said.
When applying, be sure to rub it in. Using a spray? Apply evenly and liberally, and rub it in, as well, just as you would a cream, Kendrick and Miller said.
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