Now that summer is officially here, it’s time to review the safety procedures for having fun — and staying safe — in the sun.
With UV-related risks ranging from skin cancers and sunburns all on the rise, it’s more critical than ever to take proper precautions and load up on sunscreen before stepping out for a day at the beach, or running errands, or exercising or, well, pretty much anything outdoors.
The average age of people diagnosed with melanoma is 63, the American Cancer Society reports. And according to the American Academy of Dermatology, melanoma rates in the United States doubled from 1982 to 2011 and have continued to increase.
It’s not that people are half as aware of sunscreen as they were in the 1970s. There are a host of contributing factors to the alarming trend, and, yes, the sunscreen issue is one of them.
With the proliferation of radiation-blocking products flooding the market, many Americans assume they’re all equally effective. Unfortunately, they’re not, and this year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed sweeping measures to regulate sunscreen products.
Most significantly, the FDA is re-evaluating which active ingredients in commercial sunscreens are generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE).
So far, the government has given its GRASE blessing to zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — and disallowed PABA and trolamine salicylate because of safety concerns.
The FDA said 12 other sunscreen ingredients have been insufficiently tested to rule on their safety and effectiveness. According to its press release, “The FDA is working closely with industry and has published several guidances to make sure companies understand what data the agency believes is necessary for the FDA to evaluate safety and effectiveness for sunscreen active ingredients, including the 12 ingredients for which the FDA is seeking more data.”
Other proposed changes include raising the the maximum proposed SPF value on sunscreen labels from SPF 50+ to SPF 60+ and disqualifying combination sunscreen/insect repellant from the GRASE category.
“Since the initial evaluation of these products, we know much more about the effects of the sun and about sunscreen’s absorption through the skin,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., said on FDA.gov. “Sunscreen usage has changed, with more people using these products more frequently and in larger amounts. At the same time, sunscreen formulations have evolved as companies innovated.”
The 100 safest options
In tandem with the FDA’s proposal, a nonprofit called Environmental Working Group (EWG) has catalogued what it found to be the 100 safest sunscreens that can be purchased over the counter. The annual EWG sunscreen guide breaks down some of the risks and factors that have gone into the FDA’s proposal while its tracks the policy’s progress.
Meanwhile, experts on all sides are emphasizing that sunscreen, itself, is not the cure-all for UV-related risks. There is no perfect product that will keep you 100% safe from the sun.
Other precautions that are strongly encouraged include: covering your arms, torso and legs; wearing a hat and sunglasses; and staying in the shade as much as possible, especially during peak sunlight.