Protecting our bodies from the damage of sunlight may be getting easier. The Food and Drug Administration plans to make major changes to the labels on sunscreen products next year. Expect the words "waterproof" and "sun block" to disappear from the packaging.
Toni Rowland loves the outdoors, but she has to be careful. Doctors removed part of her nose because of a melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. "I've eliminated being in the sun as much as possible but I really do enjoy being outside. So I always wear a hat, long-sleeved shirts, and I put on sunscreen every morning," says Rowland. And she has plenty to choose from including oils, creams, and sprays promising sun protection from ultraviolet rays ranging from from 4 to 45 and even higher.
The new labeling guidelines will not only change some of the numbers of the labels; they'll also change some of the words. For instance, "waterproof", according to the FDA, is misleading. "I think it's a product that's more water resistant, doesn't wash off quite as quickly. But there's nothing that will not come off to some degree in the water," says Dr. David Cox Adelson, a Tulsa dermatologist. Dr. Adelson thinks a change in the labeling is overdue. He says sunscreens do work and in some countries their heavy use is lowering the cases of skin cancer. But he says people have to understand what they're getting. "If someone says they have a higher number, does it mean they have a better sunscreen? It doesn't always follow that way at all," said Adelson. Dr. Adleson advises you should use a skin product with at least an S-P-F of 15 and reapply it often. Wear clothing to cover skin and a hat to cover your face.
Toni Rowland wishes she had that information in her teens. "I was at the lake every weekend, swimming and water skiing. It was a contest to see who could get the biggest and the worst sunburn every weekend," said Rowland. Now she visits the dermatologist every couple of years and watches for the damage to creep to the surface.
The new FDA sunscreen guidelines go into effect next year. You should remember sunscreens need at least 15 minutes to be absorbed by the skin to provide protection.