- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 10, 2001

All-day protection. PABA free. SPF 45. Waterproof. Sweatproof. Sport Block.

The growing knowledge that exposure to the sun´s ultraviolet rays can lead to skin cancer has led to the manufacture and marketing of a confusing array of products. So confusing, in fact, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expects, by the end of next year, to issue stricter definitions for labeling and claims made on sun-protection products.

Changes will include limits on how high a manufacturer can claim the SPF (sun protection factor) number is as well as changes in what "all-day protection," "waterproof" and "broad spectrum" mean.

The FDA has proposed limiting SPF values on sunscreen labels to 30. Products with a higher SPF number would be labeled "30-plus" or "high."

The agency wants those changes because of inadequacies in SPF testing at the higher levels and because it is concerned that people will believe they can stay out all day if they are wearing a higher-level SPF, says John Lipnicki, an FDA spokesman.

The FDA has recommended labeling guidelines that would say "minimal" for products with an SPF of 2 to 11, "moderate" for SPF 12 to 29 and "high" for 30 or greater.

The belief that an SPF of 45 means a person can stay in the sun 45 times longer than without any protection is one of the great myths of sunscreen use, says Paula Begoun, a Seattle consumer advocate and author of the book "Don´t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me."

"I think the problem is that anything over SPF 30 is misleading to the customer," Ms. Begoun says. "They think that 45 is that many times better than 30. The point is, you are still getting 97 to 98 percent protection from the sun. Taken literally, SPF 45 would mean you can stay in the sun for 18 hours. That misleads the consumer thinking they are getting better protection when they aren´t."

There also is a belief that more is better when it comes to the number of products, Ms. Begoun says. With sunscreen protection added to everything from hair spray to hand lotion, it is possible a woman can wear SPF 15 moisturizer followed by SPF 15 makeup and SPF 15 powder. Does that add up to SPF 45? Not necessarily, she says.

"When you have a hybrid like that, you are clearly getting some amount of better protection, but not that much more," Ms. Begoun says. "But SPF 15 alone is fine. It won´t hurt to use all those products, though. Of all things we can overdo, sunscreen is not one to worry about."

Dermatologists definitely are more concerned that Americans are underusing sun protection. Dr. Clay Cockerell, a professor of dermatology at the University of Texas-Southwest Medical Center and a board member of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), advises his patients to wear sunscreen every day.

Dr. Cockerell says expensive brands are not necessarily better than inexpensive ones.

"Most of the brands made by popular companies are fine," he says. "What you want is one labeled 'broad spectrum,´ which means it will block out both UVA and UVB rays."

Ms. Begoun says it is very important to check the label for UVB coverage. UVB is believed to be responsible for the more harmful rays that lead to aging and skin cancer, she says.

It also helps to take a look at the content label, she says. The three key ingredients are titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or avobenzone.

"You need one of those," Ms. Begoun says. "If that´s not there, it is garbage."

Other tips to keep in mind this summer:

• Waterproof sunscreens are not 100 percent waterproof. They are more often water-resistant, with labels calling for reapplication after the user has been swimming or sweating for more than 90 minutes to two hours, Ms. Begoun says.

The FDA also has recommended that "waterproof" labels be replaced with "water resistant" for products that retain the labeled SPF after they have been worn in the water for 40 minutes and "very water resistant" for products that retain their SPF after they have been worn in the water for 80 minutes.

• Apply enough sunscreen at the right time. A common mistake among sunscreen users is the amount they apply, Dr. Cockerell says. About 1 ounce (enough to fill a shot glass) is the recommended amount for complete protection for exposed areas, he says.

It also is unwise to apply sunscreen once you are in the sun, he says. The correct way is to put it on 15 or 20 minutes before going outside. That will give the sunscreen enough time to be absorbed into the skin.

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