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Few understand how to use sunscreen – Ogden Clinic provided source, Standard-Examiner 6/30/2015

OGDEN - In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced new regulations for sunscreen labels to emphasize protection against both UV-A and UV-B radiation, however, a new report shows that only 43 percent of people surveyed understand the definition of the sun protection factor (SPF).

A study, published in a research letter online by the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology, found that most patients had purchased sunscreen in 2013 and preventing sunburns was an important factor for why they wore sunscreen, followed by preventing skin cancer. The three top factors influencing patients’ decisions to purchase a particular sunscreen were highest SPF value, sensitive skin formulation, and water and sweat resistance.

However, fewer than half of participants could correctly identify terminology on a label that indicated how well the sunscreen protected against skin cancer, photoaging and sunburns. In addition, only 49 patients understood the definition of SPF value.

“Despite the recent changes in labeling mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this survey study suggests that the terminology on sunscreen labels may still be confusing to consumers,” the study concluded.

Rebecca Dunn, a dermatology physician assistant at Ogden Clinic, said new labels on sunscreen were put into place to avoid giving the general population a false sense of security in regards to sun protection. They have changed labels from “water-proof” to “water-resistant” and have included broad spectrum on labels now which indicate if the sunscreen covers again UVA and UVB. SPFs of 15 or lower must also now include a warning label in regards to skin cancer: “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”

Dunn said skin cancer rates in Utah are above the national average and continue to increase each year.

According to the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, it is estimated that one American dies every hour from skin cancer. Each year, there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancer of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.

Dunn said sun protection is a very critical aspect of skin cancer and photoaging prevention. There are numerous newer products on the market tailored to a specific need.

“The recommended ingredients in a sunscreen are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. One should look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 to 50,” Dunn said. “There are many newer formulations of sunscreens now on the market, many of which contain organic products which can lead to less irritation as well as light-weight formulations better for under make-ups. There are even powder forms of sunscreen.”

Many dermatologists even sell specific sunscreens which can be used in individuals with certain skin conditions such as acne and eczema,Dunn said.

“A person should reapply every two hours when out in the sun, and if he or she is in and out of the water and toweling off, or sweating during an activity, the sunscreen should then be reapplied every hour,” she said. “Other critical items included in sun protection are sun protective clothing, protective eyewear, preferably sun glasses with polarized lenses, and a wide-brimmed hat.”

There are many dangerous misconceptions when it comes to how people acquire sun damage, said Dr. Kanavy, assistant professor of medicine and director of pharmacology at Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Ultraviolet radiation is a known carcinogen, which means similar to cigarette smoking, it can cause lasting damage to the body.

“In a healthy cycle the body disposes of cells containing too much DNA damage. When we expose ourselves to excessive amounts of UV radiation, the body cannot get rid of all of the damaged cells and they live on. That’s why when we protect ourselves from the sun, we are protecting the core of our being – our DNA,” Kanavy said in a news release.

According to Kanavy, here are the top five skin protection myths:

Myth 1: You only need to protect yourself during peak sunlight hours. While you should be extra careful between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., any time your shadow is short, UVB rays, the rays responsible for skin redness and sunburn are a present danger. If you are outdoors during peak hours, wear clothing with built-in SPF. Certain people may be good candidates for sun protective pills that use fern extract to increase the amount of time it takes for the skin to burn.

Myth 2: If the kids aren’t burned they are wearing adequate sunscreen. Young skin can be particularly vulnerable to damage. Children should wear and reapply at least one ounce of broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunblock. Hats and sunglasses can also help protect them. While clothing, especially darker colors, offers some protection, wet clothes don’t protect much at all.

Myth 3: I need sun exposure to get vitamin D. The amount of vitamin D needed for optimum health benefits can usually be acquired during 10-15 minute intervals of sun exposure a few times per week. People who have low vitamin D levels can supplement their intake with vitamins and fortified foods. Sunscreen takes 20 minutes to start working after application, so vitamin D can be acquired in the time it takes your sunscreen to kick in.

Myth 4: The most important thing to read on a sunscreen label is the SPF factor. Sunscreens are most effective when they are broad spectrum. That means they are UVA and UVB protectant. UVA rays are present during all daylight hours and penetrate the skin deeper than UVB rays. They play a major role in skin aging and the development of skin cancers. The only way to be sure sunscreen protects from UVA and UVB is to read the label. Look for the words “broad spectrum” and ingredients such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, zinc oxide, and/or titanium oxide.

Myth 5: I do not need sun protection indoors or on cool days. The temperature is not a measure of radiation. UVA rays can penetrate cloud cover and even glass. About 50 percent of radiation can pass through a home window and 60 percent through a car window. UVA will not cause tanning, but can cause damage. Dr. Kanavy recommends making sunscreen a part of your daily routine – even if you plan to spend the day indoors.

If you happen to forget your sunscreen, there are still steps you can take to protect your skin.

“Immediately after a burn, take a cool shower and keep the burn moisturized,” said Kanavy. “Ingredients like vitamin C and vitamin E can help control damage. Weeks later, retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids are great because they increase cell turn over. The longer a damaged cell sits the more chances it has to spread its damage. People should remember there is still fun to be had in the shade.”