Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sunscreens: Part 1

Baking in the sun used to be a favorite pastime during the summer months. The whole process was immersed in a cultural protocol. Arrive at the beach early, stake out your real estate in the sand, find the best angle of the sun, lay out the blanket, slather on a suntan lotion, and get down to the serious business of getting a tan. Ah, it was heaven, . . . until the dotted line was solidly connected to skin cancer. Skin cancer? Who knew that a tan is the body's reaction to the skin being damaged?

The marketing machinery was swift to respond, knowing full well devotees would slowly be tempted to return to the seduction of the sun. Sunscreens and sunblocks were marketed with a fever. Consumers were mislead into believing the hype that the higher the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) the greater the protection, in other words, extended fun in the sun. The truth? The higher the SPF does not necessarily mean improved, prolonged protection. There is not much difference in the protection of a SPF of 15 which blocks 93.33%, and a SPF of 25 that blocks 95 %, or a SPF 30 at 98.6%. It is important to ensure adequate UVA and UVB protection but there is no point to a SPF higher than 30.

SPF is a measurement of protection from UVB rays, not necessarily UVA, so look for both in your sun protection. SPF is a guideline under ideal situations, for instance, if you exercise and perspire in the sun you will have less protection as the perspiration will wash away the SPF. Recent FDA guidelines state sunscreen manufacturers must list active sunscreen ingredients on their labels. They are also prohibited from making claims such as "all day protection", "waterproof", and will no longer permit a product to be called a "sunblock" because nothing blocks it all. Legislation also limits the SPF allowed in a product as a higher quantity of sunscreen is more likely to cause skin reactions and irritation. In Canada, expiry dates and DIN (drug identification number) are required on products having an SPF and each product must go through testing by Health Canada before it can be sold.

The moral of this story? The government watchdogs protect your health while the sunscreen manufacturers protect your skin. One keeps the other honest. It is easier to choose which product is best for your situation, your skin type (fair, olive skin, etc.) and gift yourself with a reasonable amount of time to enjoy the benefits of sunshine, . . . whether at the beach, or on the mountain skiing, without paying the hefty price.