Summer Sun Safety Update: The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

Summer is in full swing and record temperatures throughout most of the country are undoubtedly making it tough to stay cool and comfortable for a lot of you. If you’re anything like me, then you’re probably spending as much time as you can at the beach in the hopes of catching the occasional ocean breeze while soaking up some sun. It goes without saying that all that extra beach time carries a hidden price tag when it comes to your skin!

sunscreen bottle at the beachI’ve never been a fan of sunscreens as the best or only solution to protecting yourself from sun damage –partly because of all the misleading marketing hype around these products, the notorious (but rarely discussed) unreliability of SPF ratings, and the over-use of synthetic chemicals that have been shown to be potentially toxic. If you’ve followed this blog or subscribe to my newsletter, you know I’ve written numerous articles and blog posts on the subject of sun safety, skin cancer and sunscreens in the past.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything on the subject, because for a while there it seemed like nothing much had changed from one season to the next. I have been waiting to see how the new FDA rules might change things.

The new rules for sunscreens were announced last summer and just went into effect last month. While they represent progress in terms of better definition and accurate labeling of these products and have even prompted some manufacturers to re-formulate, by and large the biggest change is that most companies are just re-packaging to conform to the ne guidelines. And as is typical of industry, many companies are protesting certain aspects of the new guidelines and while they wait for a response continue to do things the same way. Namely, companies are protesting the new cap that the FDA has placed on the SPF ratings a product can have. Based on the new rules, the highest SPF rating a product can have is 50+.

There’s a good reason to cap the SPF at 50. SPF ratings higher than 50 are misleading and fool consumers into believing they are getting significantly more protection than they would from using a lower rated SPF, which simply isn’t true. Consider this: an SPF 15 absorbs 93.33% of UV rays, allowing 6.67% to get through while an SPF 30 absorbs 96.67% allowing 3.3% to pass through. What that means is a product rated SPF 30 provides only 4% more protection from the sun than one that has a rating of SPF15. As you’ve probably guessed by now, at SPF 50 you’ve pretty much maxed out on the amount of protection you can get. Any product with an SPF rating higher than 50 is just trying to trick you into thinking it’s better than all the other products out there. Pretty devious, eh?

To add insult to injury, many products are still producing products labeled with higher than 50 SPFs. I don’t know if this is arrogance (i.e. they think that they will prevail on the cap of 50 rule) or plain stupidity. Either way, it’s a sad sign that not a lot has changed so far.

I think it bears repeating that there are a number of different ways you can protect yourself and your skin from sun damage and potential skin cancer risks. Instead of relying on greedy self-serving manufacturers to protect yourself, learn about the other ways you can do this and of course, practice good common sense when it comes to spending time outdoors in the sun!

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