In recent years, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has developed a clearer understanding of the effects of the sun and the skin’s absorption of sunscreen. This past February, the FDA proposed new safety guidelines for over-the-counter sunscreens. However, according to the Environmental Workers Group (EWG), roughly 60% of current over-the-counter sunscreens will be in violation of the new safety guidelines.
The new set of regulations will crack down on ingredients and chemicals being used in sunscreen as well as SPF labeling. Two ingredients, PABA and trolamine salicylate, are not recognized as safe and effective anymore, and any product containing these would need to be approved by the FDA as a new drug. As for other ingredients, the FDA does not have sufficient data to determine whether many chemicals are safe and they are calling for additional testing.
The proposal also addresses SPF labeling and broad-spectrum coverage. In order for a sunscreen product to be labeled as SPF 15 or greater, it must protect against both UVA and UVB sun rays. This is considered a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Companies will also be required to label their products with clear active ingredients on the front of their packaging, and will be reconstructing the formats for SPF, broad-spectrum, and water-resistant labeling. CNN reported that the “FDA says there is no good data showing that sunscreens can protect past a level of 60+ SPF, and therefore labeling sunscreen at levels higher than 60+ could be misleading by providing a false sense of sun protection.”
So why does this matter? Skin cancer. Skin cancer affects more Americans every year than all other cancers combined.
When it comes to preventing skin cancer, most people rely on sunscreen to protect them from the sun and UV rays. While skin cancer may not appear to be as life-threatening as other cancers, it can be fatal if it goes undiagnosed for a long time.
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma.
Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are by far the two most common forms of skin cancer. These cancers are most likely to be found on parts of the body that are susceptible to sun exposure such as the head and neck. However, they can be found anywhere on the body. Most cases of basal and squamous cell cancers are unlikely to spread to other parts of the body and become fatal, but there is a possibility of this happening, particularly with squamous cancer cells.
Melanomas are the third type of skin cancer. Melanoma cancer cells develop from melanocytes, the cells that make the brown pigment of the skin. While melanoma is much less common, it is a more serious cancer with a higher probability of spreading to other parts of the body. If melanoma is caught early, treatment is simple. However, if it goes undiagnosed, it can spread to other organs of the body, becoming fatal.
How does it spread? Melanoma, while it may look like a freckle or mole on the surface of the skin, grows below the surface of the skin, slowly going deeper and deeper. If melanoma reaches the lymphatic system or the bloodstream, the cancer cells can spread to other organs of the body.
The layers and structures of the skin. Image from Human Anatomy Atlas.
Risk factors for skin cancer include family history, a weakened immune system, radiation exposure, chemical exposure, and, of course, a history of sunburns and extreme sun exposure. Conducting regular self-exams is a good way to check for unusual skin growths.
These new FDA regulations to make sure people are properly protected from the sun, and therefore skin cancer, are just in time for summer. Ensuring that the sunscreen we are using is not harmful to us and protects us from skin cancer is key.
So, as summer continues to heat up, remember to stay safe in the sun! Here are some sun-safety tips from the Skin Cancer Foundation. Of course, the best way to protect yourself from the sun is by keeping out of direct sunlight. Wearing protective clothing and a hat in addition to using sunscreen is also key.
Want to learn more about the skin? Check out this blog post:
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