It’s officially beach season, complete with sand, swim suits, and lots of sunshine. It’s been proven time and time again that it’s imperative to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. Not only can you sustain painful burns, but prolonged sun exposure can lead to skin cancer, as the UV rays can damage DNA beyond repair.
For people with particularly pale skin or a family history of skin cancer, doctors and dermatologists recommend an SPF nearing 60 or so. SPF is short for “Sun Protection Factor” and measures the percentage of photons let through to the skin. The scale for measuring SPF is nonlinear; that is, SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, where SPF 30 blocks 97% and SPF 50 blocks 98%. It’s important to consult a family doctor or dermatologist to ensure you and your children are properly protected.
As it is considered an over-the-counter drug, the FDA regulates the sunscreen industry, setting the thresholds and limits of active ingredients and testing the compounds before they hit the market. According to Consumer Reports, “an FDA official said the agency had the resources for only about 30 employees to cover more than 100,000 over-the-counter drugs.” As such, the industry is generally under regulated and unfounded claims about efficacy and protection abound.
A recent Consumer Reports article brought to the attention of consumers that the advertised SPF on certain sunscreens may not be all it claims. For the past five years, Consumer Reports has run independent testing on various sunscreen brands and each product offered by each brand to determine the validity of their claims. Most sunscreens are tested by sponsored labs, so their data is biased and often unreliable. Consumer Reports runs both the FDA tests as well as some clinical tests of its own to determine the veracity of the claims on sunscreen bottles.
Consumer Reports found that there was wild variation both within a brand of sunscreen as well as within the class of SPF. Take, for example, Coppertone. The company’s Sport High Performance Spray SPF 30 was rated as “very poor” in Consumer Reports’ clinical tests, delivering under half of the promised SPF. However, Coppertone’s WaterBabies line of sunscreen was ranked fairly well.
Naturally, a spokesperson for Personal Care Products Council, publically defended all sunscreen claims and denounced the Consumer Reports findings as contrary to what the FDA found. Regardless, it’s important for parents to consult with their family doctor or a trusted dermatologist to ensure that their children are properly protected from the sun’s damaging rays.