For most us, living at Venice Beach means spending time in the summer sun, but choosing the right sunscreen can be confusing. This month, the Food and Drug Administration issued new guidelines to be phased in gradually, that will help clarify what these products do and don’t do.
Ultraviolet light produces both UVA and UVB rays. Although UVB rays are worse at causing sunburn, both can cause long term sun damage. In fact, although most of us don’t want to hear this, a tan is skin damage.
Under new FDA guidelines, sunscreens that block both kinds of rays will be the only ones labeled broad spectrum.
Broad spectrum sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater may also display labeling that they protect the skin from premature skin aging and skin cancer.
The other day on a sail in Santa Monica Bay, I was using "sunblock" with an SPF of 85. I should save the tube as a collector’s item. Neither the word “sunblock” nor an SPF number over 50 may appear on a label any longer. There’s no evidence that any lotion actually blocks the sun’s radiation nor that any SPFs past 50 offer greater protection. You will see them labeled 50+, but nothing more specific than that.
Sunscreens will no longer be labeled waterproof or sweatproof, and they must clearly state how long the protection lasts before they need to be reapplied.
When choosing a sunscreen it’s best to pick one with both a light absorbing chemical like oxybenzone and a physical blocker that reflects the sun’s energy like titanium oxide. Most people don’t use enough. To coat an exposed body, apply at least an ounce or two, enough to fill a shot glass.
Each year an estimated 3.5 million Americans develop skin cancer. Carcinomas and even melanomas are readily treatable if caught early. Each hour, another American dies of melanoma, so this summer on Venice Beach, either cover up or use generous amounts of sunblock er… sunscreen.