Monday, May 5, 2014 The Sunscreen Controversy

The following is a preview of an article Dr. Miller wrote for Click here to read the full article.

Sunscreens have been commercially available in the United States since the late 1960's. We now use sunscreens with high sun protection factor (SPF) but this apparently has not been enough since the incidence of skin cancer has continued to rise. This has led to controversy over whether the use of sunscreens may or may not increase an individual’s risk of skin cancer.

Is There a Problem with the Sun Protection Factor (SPF)?
Most people understand the concept that the higher the sun protection factor (SPF), the stronger the sunscreen. However, few people truly understand what it means. If you get sunburned within five minutes of being in the sun without sunscreen, then using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 indicates that you could stay in the sun for 15 times five minutes or 75 minutes before getting sunburnt. The problem is that the SPF only applies to the amount of protection against the UVB rays of the sun, which cause sunburn, and does not indicate how much UVA protection there is. It is hypothesized that we are using sunscreen that prevents us from being sunburned, and therefore we are staying in the sun longer than ever before. This allows us to get more UVA than we got before the advent of sunscreens. In other words, sunscreens have given us a false sense of security that we are completely protecting ourselves from the sun when we actually are not.

What Has Been Done to Improve Our Level of Protection?
The FDA has recognized that there is potential for confusion regarding the labeling of sunscreens. Therefore, they have instituted new requirements for sunscreen labeling that helps us to choose a sunscreen that provides adequate protection and tells us how long that protection lasts. In addition to the SPF, there should be the words "broad spectrum" on the label, which indicates that there is adequate UVA protection as well. Without this wording, the sunscreen should have a warning label indicating that use of the product may lead to the development of skin cancer. In addition, the sunscreen label should indicate how long the sunscreen is sweat resistant and water resistant. There is no "sweat proof" or "water proof" sunscreen.

Sunscreen use does not cause skin cancer, but not understanding the labeling can lead to a false sense of security and allow us to get more of the cancer causing UVA rays. Understanding the labeling, using the correct amount of sunscreen, and reapplying when the sunscreen begins to wear out is important to ensure our safety.

Stop by Greenville Dermatology today to pick up your summer supply of sunscreen. To schedule your annual skin cancer screening, call (864) 242-5872. 

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