Last week, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) dropped a bombshell on the sunscreen industry and their consumers. The agency claimed that one-third the most popular sunscreen lotions on the market might not adequately protect against cancer. And because of this revelation, the FDA has handed down some new guidelines.
The Atlantic reported that there is some sound science behind these new recommendations. First, there are two types of ultra violet rays that cause skin aging and cancer—UVA and UVB rays. Most sunscreens protect against UVB to prevent sunburns, but those same lotions don’t always protect you from UVA, which also cause some forms of skin cancer.
Starting in 2012, the FDA will require the following from makers of sunscreens:
—A stricter test for all sunscreens to make sure we're protected against UVA and UVB—a.k.a. broad spectrum protection. "Consumers should look for a product labeled 'broad spectrum' in the same font, color and size as the SPF label," the FDA's Dr. Reynold Tan said. "These are the only products that are proven to protect against both skin cancer and sunburns, both UVA and UVB rays."
—To get the "broad spectrum" claim, manufacturers will have to show that the amount of UVA protection proportionally increases as the SPF level increases. The product will also need to be SPF 15 or higher and will clearly state on the bottle that the lotion, "reduces the risk of early skin aging and skin cancer." Anything less than SPF 15, but meets the broad spectrum requirement doesn’t mean that it is protecting you against skin cancer.
—No product will be allowed to claim that it's waterproof, because no sun protection withstands the water.
I was one of those people who thought the higher the SPF the more protection I was getting. And that unfortunately isn't true, because SPF is not a real indicator of UVA or UVB's. And because of all this misinformation, Americans have paid the price. Between the years 1992 and 2005, rates of melanoma (the most dangerous type of skin cancer) have nearly doubled.
And while the FDA's changes might be a step in the right direction, not everyone thinks so. The San Francisco Chronicle reported:
“The Environmental Working Group remain dissatisfied. David Andrews, a senior scientist with Environmental Working Group, said, "FDA's rule will allow most products on the U.S. market to use the label 'broad spectrum sunscreen,' even though some will not offer enough protection to assure Americans they can stay in the sun without suffering skin damage from invisible UVA radiation. For that reason, about 20 percent of products that meet the new FDA standards could not be sold in Europe, where UVA standards are strict."
And so I know that some of you are thinking, "This doesn’t relate to Black folks because our skin is a natural sun block and we don't get skin cancer." And that's not true. Yes, the melanin in darker skin does protect more than someone with fairer skin, but African-Americans can develop skin cancer and die from it. We all need protection.
Here's what you need to know:
—Although African Americans are 10 times less likely to get skin cancer than whites, we have more complications and higher death rates.
—Melanoma usually begins as an abnormal mole. For early detection, make sure to examine your skin once a month to look for any new growths or changes in existing lesions. If you notice any changes, call your doctor.
—Skin cancer is often divided into two categories: melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma is deadly.
—Avoid direct sun exposure during peak sun hours (10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.) If you're outside for more than 15 minutes, use sunscreen with a (SPF) of 15 or higher every day. And if outside in the sun for long periods of time like at a BBQ, the pool, the beach or at the park, reapply every two hours. Wear a hat and clothing to protect your skin from the sun. Also make sure to look to see what the UVB and UVA protection is.
To learn more about skin cancer and how to protect yourself, click here.